Select Committee on Business and Enterprise Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-85)


26 MARCH 2008

  Q80  Chairman: Thank you. I think we will come back to that at a later date. Just a few wrap up questions from me to Mr Jones. I said that we had begun to get evidence coming in rather latterly in this inquiry. It strikes me that although you are very excited by the challenge of running your organisation, quite a lot of work done by the staff is extremely mundane. I do not want to belittle the work, it is important work, but very mundane, the bureaucratic work of transferring documents to an electronic system. Is it a very boring job? Do you find staff retention a challenge, or do they enjoy their work?

  Mr Jones: I would agree with you that some of the tasks might seem a little mundane. Actually, staff turnover rates are extremely low in Companies House. We recently recruited a number of staff to help us over the early stages of CHIPS implementation, where clearly unfamiliarity with the system will lead to a slight drop in productivity, and we had no difficulty at all in recruiting very junior staff to come in and do some of the tasks that you describe. I suppose I put it down to the working environment and the management there, Chairman!

  Q81  Chairman: I thought you might. I felt that one coming! Excellent. Well, pat yourself on the back, Mr Jones! Just a few detailed points. ICSA said, "Companies House does not seem to read the covering letters sent to them. Why is this? Are the forms sent to the document examination branch and the letter automatically binned?

  Mr Jones: No.

  Q82  Chairman: You do read covering letters? We are reassured on that point. They said, "How good is the training provided for the call centre staff? They did not seem to be very good and often gave conflicting advice if you spoke to more than one person".

  Mr Jones: I am very surprised to hear that. We use a company called Vertex as our providers of a contact centre. The satisfaction rates with their services are always extremely high, well up into the 90%, but obviously if there are individual instances of people not being dealt with properly then I would want to hear about it.

  Q83  Chairman: I have encountered this problem with the banking community recently myself on my mortgage: "Their point blank refusal to correct mistakes that are blatantly their own. I find it really annoying that you are required to submit a form to correct their mistake".

  Mr Jones: I do not recognise that particular case. I did explain earlier, though, that if somebody sends in a form with incorrect information on it and it is registered, I do not have the powers then to take that information off the register.

  Q84  Chairman: Which is an interesting point, which I think we have noted very carefully. I just leave you really with the thought—unless there is anything else you want to say, Mr Jones? If there is anything we have not covered or you want to say?

  Mr Jones: No, just to say that I have really welcomed the opportunity to tell the Committee something about what we are doing. It is an extremely exciting customer-focused, customer-orientated bit of government, most certainly the most customer-focused bit of government I have ever worked in over the last 30 years and I always welcome the opportunity to talk about it.

  Q85  Chairman: It is important and I think the issues have certainly been helpful in clarifying my thinking. The Finance and Leasing Association sent us a very good submission in which they said, "Companies House's failure to vet the details of company directors listed on their website means that the directors register is currently unreliable. We stress the potential for the misuse of company information and director details. Sadly, our members report that such misuse is now common". I understand the constraints you are labouring under. It seems it is really important that the phrase I used earlier, caveat emptor, is in everyone's mind when they access the data on your site?

  Mr Jones: Yes, and we do make it clear to people that the information which is registered is information which has been sent to us by the people submitting the information, but I think it is a fair point that we need to keep making sure that that message gets across.

  Chairman: Unless my colleagues have any further questions? Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed for coming to give evidence to us. I do not think you promised us anything substantial in a further follow-up in writing, but if there is anything which comes to mind after this session then please feel free to get in touch with us and communicate in any way you want any further thoughts. Thank you very much indeed for coming all the way from Cardiff.

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