Select Committee on Public Accounts Forty-Fifth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

On contract procurement and implementation

1.  Timetables for the development and implementation of new services should provide for sufficient in-depth consultation directly with potential users of the service, and for the outcome of consultation to be reflected in service design. The Agency's problems stemmed from an over ambitious timetable, with inadequate time dedicated to identifying and taking action on the preferences of potential users of the service at an early stage of the project causing significant changes to be made in planned business processes late in the development process.

2.  In developing services to promote electronic government departments should first establish that potential users will wish to use, or be equipped to use, the planned service in this way. Departments may need to consider incentives, such as a discounted price for the service, to encourage use of electronic methods if more efficient and effective. The Agency assumed a largely telephone based service with some online access. Users' preference, however, was for paper based applications, and for applications submitted in bulk by potential employers rather than by individuals.

3.  Adequate time for piloting new services is fundamental to successful introduction. In the Bureau's case only a limited pilot was planned initially, and that was squeezed as significant changes to planned business processes became necessary. Launching a service which does not work may be more inconvenient for users than delaying service introduction to get the system right.

4.  Rejected bids should be scrutinised carefully for signs of possible weaknesses in the tender specification, and the successful contractor's bid. Other bidders for the Bureau's contract had questioned both the realism of the timetable, and the assumption that 85% of Disclosure applications would be made by phone. The Agency took action to obtain independent assurance on the successful candidate's bid, but did not adequately heed the warnings signs within other contractors' bids.

5.  If business assumptions change fundamentally during service development, Departments should consider whether to continue with their current contractor or test the market again, balancing the potential delay to service introduction with the risks to value for money of a single tender in such circumstances. Capita, the successful bidder, quoted a price of £250 million, around £100 million less than the other bidders, but the changes to business processes and the timetable needed to accommodate users' preferences means that the contract value is now £395 million over ten years, and hence more expensive than prices quoted by other bidders.

6.  The Agency and Capita were slow to establish an effective working partnership to address the emerging difficulties. They did not do so fully until the problems reached crisis level.

On protecting the vulnerable

7.  The Home Office and the Bureau should better facilitate the checking of identity, which has now been made the responsibility of employers and voluntary organisations. Currently, for example, the Bureau recommends sight of a Passport or Driving Licence as evidence of identity, but only the Bureau can check the validity of these documents with the Passport Agency's records or those of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

8.  The Bureau has achieved significant improvement in the turnaround times for handling Disclosures, with the majority now dealt with within target times. The turnaround target times were, however, less onerous in 2003-04 than for 2002-03, and the Bureau should look to improve the speed of service delivery now that its activities have stabilised.

9.  Disclosures should be extended to staff already employed as well as new recruits to enhance protection to vulnerable adults in particular. Due to the Bureau's initial problems the Disclosure service is not as comprehensive as planned, with the result that some categories of vulnerable people are not receiving the protection they deserve. For example, existing health and social care staff are not currently subject to checks. This situation should now be remedied.

10.  In furnishing Disclosures to employers, the Bureau should emphasise that while every effort is made to secure their accuracy, they can only be as good as the basic data provided both by the applicant and the Police National Computer. The employer is ultimately responsible for recruitment decisions, and should be cautioned against placing absolute reliance upon a Disclosure.

11.  The range of vulnerable groups includes both old and young and it is important that the Bureau sets its priorities to ensure that proper protection is extended to all.

12.  The Home Office and the Bureau should commission research as to whether the Bureau's more comprehensive and consistent means of access to criminal records is contributing to a reduction in the number of crimes and abuses against the vulnerable.

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Prepared 28 October 2004