Department for Constitutional Affairs - Health Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)


17 OCTOBER 2006

  Q20  Chairman: You are satisfied that the problem has been resolved now?

  Barbara Moorhouse: Yes. Essentially, we had to work, obviously, with our out-sourced supplier to provide the solutions, so both we and the supplier worked together. The benefit of that was that I think it has improved working relationships and understanding of how we can work better in the future and we have a major initiative now within finance to try and improve the way in which we carry out a wide variety of finance systems and processes which we believe will deliver efficiencies and, more importantly, give the Department a much better understanding and control of its costs and visibility and where it is actually spending its money; much better management information, in short.

  Q21  Chairman: These do not involve taking this function back in-house, do they, or might they?

  Barbara Moorhouse: Currently, we have just been going through a set of discussions with that supplier to look exactly at the interface, because there were some functions that we felt on the margin were better performed in-house and we have arranged to do that by a contract renegotiation, and there have been some small areas where we felt that they should take those into their portfolio of responsibilities. But it is at a very detailed level. There are a series of service level agreements that cover exactly what they do to us and what we do to them and the corresponding rights and responsibilities on both sides. We have carried out a comprehensive review of that settlement or that contractual base with them and we have made provisions that we know will save us money and we think will help to create that better platform for financial management.

  Q22  Chairman: One of the reasons you gave for not getting your resource accounts in on time before the recess was that you had taken in the court service, but you have the Tribunals Agency. Are you not going to go through the same thing all over again?

  Barbara Moorhouse: The Tribunal Service is smaller. It has therefore been easier to absorb, and the second issue was that it was the combination really of HMCS and the Oracle systems failure that caused us problems, and we are obviously anticipating that we will not suffer system failures in the same way again, and we have no reason to believe at this point that we will. The systems are now running smoothly, and we have planned very carefully to try and make sure that we are all set for being able to lay accounts before recess for the current financial year.

  Q23  Chairman: This summer you have been involved in discussions about potential job cuts, and you told us that you met the trade union side in July and there was going to be another meeting in the autumn. Where are you up to on that?

  Alex Allan: I have had another meeting a few weeks ago with the trade union side where we expanded on the plans we had, and explained how we were going about it, trying to put the financial background that is part of this and generally trying to be as open as we can about the plans going forward, to explain how we are looking to improve the efficiencies with which the courts run, and this is very much in line with our general strategy. We believe that there are things we can do through some targeted investment to improve the way the courts run. We have a whole programme of simpler, speedier summary justice, which is aimed at making sure that trials start more promptly, that they have fewer hearings before they actually come to trial. We believe there is quite a lot we can do to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the way the courts operate and that is what we are trying to do.

  Q24  Chairman: Is there a financial target for that programme, the speedy, simple summary justice?

  Alex Allan: We are working on the financial targets. We have a number of pilots going at the moment and perhaps I could ask Rod Clark to expand on that in a moment.

  Q25  Chairman: I was interested to know about the programme as a whole.

  Alex Allan: We have very specific efficiency targets, for example, for head count as part of the Gershon review originally, and this is certainly one of the ways in which we are going to meet those targets. Yes, there is that. Yes, we also have an overall financial envelope for the Department. We are engaged in negotiations at the moment with the Treasury over the new Comprehensive Spending Review. Perhaps I could ask Rod Clark to expand about the scope of the simple, speedy summary justice programme.

  Rod Clark: It was set out in the Lord Chancellor's document before the summer and has a number of elements. Key amongst them are the elements in particular the magistrates' courts but also in the crown court, which are to do with getting the criminal justice agencies to work together more effectively and, in particular, to get advanced information on cases so that they can be disposed of more rapidly, particularly at the first hearing, where possible, without the large numbers of additional hearings that have often bedevilled the system. I was fairly recently down visiting the pilot that is running in Coventry Magistrates' Court, for example, and really very impressed at the results they are getting. By ensuring that advance information is provided early to the defence so that the defence can consult their client early on, there are a lot more cases coming to a first hearing with a plea, with a plea that can lead straight away to a sentence and so deal with that case very rapidly, and, where it does need to proceed to trial, that a date can be set very soon afterwards. The support of the magistracy in the area combined with the support from the police and the prosecution are essential in achieving that. That reduces Legal Aid expenditure as well as reducing the pressure on the staff and the courts themselves. This is a pilot at this stage. We are obviously looking to build on that sort of experience, but to find exactly what the financial implications are going to be, we need to do some more work.

  Q26  Chairman: Just going back to jobs for a moment, can I clarify? You gave us some figures earlier on on the job losses that were expected in human relations and the Tribunals Service and various other parts of DCA. Do you have a current figure for people who have gone and posts not filled, just to give us a picture of what is happening?

  Barbara Moorhouse: Up until the first quarter of this year of our Gershon target, 1,100 job reductions, we had achieved 449. If I put it in context in terms of the overall Gershon programme, we had a baseline in April 2006 of 25,950 jobs and our target is to get down by 31 March 2008 to 24,473. That would give us a small margin. In other words, we now have plans that will enable us to exceed the Gershon target by about 200 jobs.

  Q27  Chairman: And none of these involve simply transferring the equivalent work to the equivalent number of people in the private sector?

  Barbara Moorhouse: No, these are attempts, as we have just been discussing, with the CJ SSS programme to achieve genuine efficiencies across the entirety of the Department in the way in which we work. Obviously, it is the case that most of those job reductions will take place in HMCS through better processes, primarily in the courts, and the change and modernisation programme that is now under way and that has received funding from the Treasury.

  Q28  Keith Vaz: Mr Allan, did you see Question time today?

  Alex Allan: Yes, I did.

  Q29  Keith Vaz: So you heard my question to the Junior Minister about consultants.

  Alex Allan: Yes.

  Q30  Keith Vaz: So you know the answer to the question that I am going to ask you now.

  Alex Allan: It depends which question you are going to ask me.

  Q31  Keith Vaz: I only asked one question, the question on consultants to Vera Baird. Did you see it?

  Alex Allan: Yes, I did.

  Q32  Keith Vaz: So you know what I am going to ask you, do you not?

  Alex Allan: Perhaps you would like to ask me exactly what it is.

  Q33  Keith Vaz: What did these consultants accomplish and why is it that on 4 May I was told by the Minister of State that she did not know?

  Alex Allan: As I think the Parliamentary Secretary explained, we do have devolved budgets, we have devolved responsibilities for spending on consultancies as well as other areas, so some of it is approved locally, for the large ones there is a hierarchy of approvals, and major spending has to be approved by director generals, for example. So it is not straightforward at the moment to get the information. In a moment I will ask Barbara Moorhouse just to say a bit more about the work we have now got in hand to get better and quicker information. We have done some investigation following, partly, your question to make sure that we knew the full range of spending that was going on. In terms of the sort of various categories of spending, it covers a wide range of different types of consultancy, from support for change management, support for marketing and communications, support for the human resources programme, quite significant support for IT, some for the finance change programme, some for the strategy programme.

  Q34  Chairman: You are spending a lot more money on IT to pay for the problems which other programmes brought out?

  Alex Allan: One of the reasons we do spend money on consultants in the IT area, for example, is because it does not make sense for us to employ directly very large numbers of very specialised IT skills for what would be a fixed length period. It is fairly normal that we do employ consultancies to provide that sort of support. Another one is that, for example, we are going through changing our pay and grading system across the whole Department, because we have inherited 42 different systems of pay and grading in local authorities, and we have been getting consultancy help to try and make sure that the system we devise for that is fit for purpose and in line with all the others.

  Q35  Keith Vaz: Can I just stop you there? What surprises me and my colleagues, which prompted the question that I put down, was that you spent £11 million last year, you spent £700,000 in 1997, so we are talking about over the last ten years—and I do not have figures for each year but you will because you are the Permanent Secretary—I would think over £50 million has been spent on consultants, because it would have gone up from £700,000 to £10 million. It has not suddenly gone up from £700,000 to £10 million. There would have been a gradual increase over the years. We are talking millions and millions of pounds here, and you are telling me that until questions were put down you had no method of knowing who commissioned these consultants. We are talking about PricewaterhouseCoopers, £2,223,000; we are talking about KPMG, £1,061,000; and these are big names here, a lot of money, and until these questions were put down and you started to investigate what this was about, you, as the Permanent Secretary responsible to the Government and your Department, coming to us to give us your review, did not bother to know who commissioned this.

  Alex Allan: I would know for the very large items that you mention. The issue, as I think was brought out in the Minister of State's written reply to you, was that there are very large sums ranging from £400 to one consultant, which I would not necessarily be expected to know about ...

  Q36  Keith Vaz: I know what he does because I found out this morning. The £413 we can deal with.

  Alex Allan: Yes, but the large sums, yes, I would have known. PricewaterhouseCoopers' main work was in the areas of our consumer strategy, where, following the creation of the new Department, and a focus much more on saying that our focus is on consumers rather than providers, we did quite substantial research looking at all sorts of areas across that to do with people's experience with the criminal justice system, some of the work that your Committee has looked at to do with small claims.

  Q37  Keith Vaz: Let us look at the smallest amount, Mr Sutlieff. Mr Sutlieff was employed to fill a short-term skills gap. This is what he did: he devised a communication strategy and provided advertising and communication advice to the Judicial Appointments Commission implementation scheme. The strategy set out how to promote awareness across key stakeholders about how the creation of the Judicial Appointments Commission upon implementation of a constitutional format will affect judicial appointments and what these changes would mean for them. He was paid £413. I just cannot believe that in a Department the size of yours, with the budget you have, a quarter of all public expenditure in some areas, that you could not have found one civil servant to have done this work.

  Alex Allan: Mr Sutlieff was, as you may know, previously a civil servant. He was director of communications at the Cabinet Office, I believe.

  Q38  Keith Vaz: So he was an ex-civil servant who you have given this contract to?

  Alex Allan: Yes.

  Q39  Keith Vaz: But you could not find a single person in your Department to do this?

  Alex Allan: It may well have been—I am speculating because I do not know the exact answer. As I say, a sum of that size would not require my involvement or approval but it is not unreasonable, where a team needs what is obviously a pretty small contract, that it may be more cost-effective to employ somebody like Mr Sutlieff to do that than it would be to—

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 30 March 2009