Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-85)


21 FEBRUARY 2007

  Q80  Mr Love: Can I refer you to the Australian experience where they have a more simplified process that is not as resource-intensive and very significant numbers of people in Australia are prosecuted and fined. I do not know what they do with the sentences for electoral registration but I commend that system to you. It may well be that legislation needs to go through to enable you to achieve that. I would hope that you would come back to us in relation to that. Can I go on to outsourcing? What lessons have you learnt from the outsourcing in the last census?

  Ms Dunnell: First of all, we learnt that actually it was very successful. We identified a company that delivered what we wanted and this time we are outsourcing rather more of the work.

  Q81  Mr Love: You will be aware of the criticism made by the NAO about the inability to keep tabs on what was happening. How do you respond to those criticisms?

  Ms Dunnell: This time, of course, as we said before, we are working very closely with the OGC. We have already set up a dedicated procurement team in ONS and that is working with our central procurement team. I do believe that government procurement has got a lot more professional since the last time.

  Mr Cope: The procurement process was quite successful but in the way in which we went about it, we did not follow all the rules. We have procurement specialists advising us and leading on procurement. I can assure you that they do not let me do anything unless it is completely consistent with all the government procurement rules. We are very fair between the suppliers and transparent. We set out all our success criteria before procurement was started. I am pretty confident that we are following all the governed procurement rules and that has been endorsed so far by the reviews that have been carried out. In fact, our last OGC gateway review commended our procurement process.

  Q82  Mr Love: Presumably you are following all the NAO recommendations made in that report?

  Mr Cope: Yes.

  Q83  Mr Love: As a final question: in October last year, and no doubt you will be aware of this, my local authority commissioned Leslie Mayhew (I am sure he is well known to you) to do a population study in my area. This is six full years after the census was carried out. They have been trumpeting the fact that they found a significant 3,400 odd difference between his estimate, based on various sources, and the updated ONS estimate. You are acutely aware, I hope, of the need in 2011 to get this right.

  Ms Dunnell: I hope we have emphasised that today. Yes.

  Q84  Mr Todd: In the risk factors that have been identified for this project I do not think there is an explicit reference to relocation of parts of your operations to Newport. Do you think that is a risk in carrying out this census accurately?

  Ms Dunnell: No, I do not at all. The census work was relocated from London to Titchfield in the 1990s and that was a very successful relocation. The way we are managing the census at the moment is that Jil Matheson is responsible for it on the executive board of the Office and Ian and his team are entirely 100% dedicated to it in Titchfield. The relocation to Newport really does not impact on the census at all.

  Q85  Mr Todd: Good. On the Gershon savings, you may have heard David Rhind making a remark which did not suggest he was entirely comfortable about the application of these saving to the ONS.

  Ms Dunnell: Can I reassure you about the census on this point? The Gershon savings apply to our baseline, and of course we only have a very small amount of the census that we are doing at the moment in our baseline. The bid that we are making in the Spending Review is a bid for the whole of the rest of the work up to 2012 and it will not be affected by the Gershon efficiencies at all. The rest of the Office is continuing, of course, to have to find efficiencies, but we are making a separate bid for the census work.

  Chairman: Thank you for that. You have promised us some additional information on the OGC reviews. We would be grateful to receive the ones that they have done and the ones that continue to come in.

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