Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 151)



  Q140  Janet Anderson: Do you think you have learnt any lessons from some of the things that have happened in the past? I was just thinking about passports and when the asylum databases were combined, the three databases, have you learnt lessons from what went wrong there, you think, which will inform what you are doing here?

  Katherine Courtney: Certainly we are drawing lessons not only from projects that have gone wrong but also from projects that have gone well, in the public sector and in the private sector. Quite importantly, the team that has been brought together to manage this programme bring a wealth of expertise from the private sector, which is where I myself have come from, as well as across Government and having been involved in other major Government initiatives in the past. And then finally, I should say that the Office of Government Commerce oversight that we have invited in is providing us again with access to best practice, information and learning from other Government initiatives.

  Q141  Janet Anderson: Do you think that there will be a need for an independent assessment at some point, or do you think that you will have built sufficient safeguards in place?

  Katherine Courtney: I am not sure I understand what an independent assessment is?

  Q142  Janet Anderson: At some point would you perhaps commission an independent assessment, an outside assessment, to assess whether it was, in fact, working as you had intended?

  Katherine Courtney: Certainly we have, within the proposed governance framework for this programme, a whole raft of oversight both within the Home Office and independent advice from outside. No decision has been made whether we would commission a particular independent assessment.

  Q143  Chairman: You noted earlier that the OGC Gateways go from 0 to 5, that is because it is Gateway 6 would tell you the system was really going to work, is it not, and we never quite get there? I mean this is the same OGC framework that signed off the Criminal Records Bureau, I think, was ready to run. So do you have complete confidence that the OGC Gateways are sufficiently robust to say "Yes, we can push the button on this one and it is ready to go"?

  Katherine Courtney: I know that OGC Gateway system is a fairly new process. It has only been in operation for the last couple of years and I, coming in from outside of Government, cannot really speak on how effective the process is. What I do know is that, from my own background, I have confidence that a programme like this, it is possible to deliver a programme of this size and complexity within plan and effectively and successfully.

  Nicola Roche: I think also the OGC reports to this senior responsible owner for any programme within Government. In this case it is our Permanent Secretary of the Home Office. So the ultimate decision and the advice that goes to Ministers, yes, it takes into account OGC, but it is not just solely resting on that. So if we did have concerns, there would be . . .

  Q144  Chairman: Have a look at the advice we got on the Criminal Records Bureau. Could you just tell us what your background is?

  Katherine Courtney: Certainly. I have spent the last 12 years in the technology sector leading major development programmes both for major companies like Cable and Wireless and BT and also have been involved in the start up of several new technology ventures. Most of those were rolling out new businesses on an international basis which requires a great deal of not just complexity in terms of the technical systems, but also in terms of the cultural and business process issues there.

  Q145  David Winnick: How were you brought into the Home Office? Was it an advertisement or other contacts?

  Katherine Courtney: Yes, there was a recruitment process and I saw an ad in the Sunday Times and applied for the job.

  David Winnick: As good a way as any to get a job.

  Q146  Mr Prosser: Just on the question of safeguards, and we have already heard people suggest that any card could be fraudulently used and that nothing will be secure, a spokesperson from Migrant Helpline recently said on regional television that he has already got the evidence that the ARC cards which are distributed to asylum seekers, which have got biometric imprints on, are already being fraudulently used and being counterfeited. Do you have any evidence of that at all? If not, I wonder if you could let the Committee know what the actual situation is?

  Nicola Roche: I do not know about the specific case with the ARC card, but we will certainly look into it.[4] Clearly our job in this testing and feasibility stage is to make sure that any possibility of fraud is rooted out. We can already see where people might be thinking of it and are closing that off, but we will want to do really rigorous testing and keep on doing it as the card is used and upgrade as we need to.

  Q147  Chairman: Finally, what are the consequences of the Scottish Executive's policy, who said they would not make use of the card compulsory for devolved services?

  Nicola Roche: That was fully discussed by Government as the decision was taken. The operation of devolved services are a matter for the Scottish Executive in the case of Scotland, it is a decision for them and we know that is going to happen.

  Q148  Chairman: Without, as it were, some of the advantages of holding the card which you described earlier for England and Wales, does that mean that you would expect the take up of the card to be less in Scotland precisely because you do not need to use it, for example, to register with the Health Service?

  Nicola Roche: People who live in Scotland will still be renewing passports and driving licences, so they will get the identity card through those documents, as will 16 year olds.

  Q149  Chairman: But in the voluntary bit, as it were, there may be slightly less take up because there is less reason to have it?

  Nicola Roche: There might be, but they will still be required to produce identity in a range of circumstances and may find the ID card helpful.

  Stephen Harrison: I think just to add to that as well, the vast majority of services are devolved in Scotland but, for example, social security benefits and so on . . .

  Q150  Chairman: Are national.

  Stephen Harrison: . . . remain the responsibility of Westminster.

  Q151  David Winnick: Do you know why the Scottish Executive came to that decision?

  Nicola Roche: I would not be able to give a comment on that, no.

  David Winnick: We will try and find out.[5] Thank you.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for getting the inquiry off to a good start.

4   Note by the Rt Hon David Blunkett MP, Home Secretary: The Immigration Service say that they have seen very few cases of suspect ARC cards. Of the ones they have seen, only two were in fact forgeries, and only one of these was of a quality which may have deceived untrained personnelBack

5   See Ev 258-259. Back

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