12.The DBS was not able to set out for us a convincing longer-term vision for what a modernised service would look like. It also reported that productivity in both basics and disclosures services was lower than expected. We are therefore unclear on what modernisation now means and are concerned that the DBS has not been able to define its current vision of what a completed modernised service would look like.
13.The DBS told us that the replacement contract will take existing systems as they are and continue to deliver its services using these systems. The DBS confirmed that there is no further ‘big bang’ development planned for its disclosures function. However, its new contractor will look at smaller incremental changes to systems to improve accessibility to information for DBS staff once it has taken over the service and is able to identify where improvements can be made.
14.We remain unclear as to how the original 2012 business case setting out expected benefits as a result of the modernisation programme will be achieved. In our evidence session on Cyber Security in April 2019, Sir Mark Sedwill, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office from 2013 to 2015, admitted that programme went “off track”. He told us that the “original business case was highly ambitious and, together with the creation at the same time of the new service … the institutional capabilities of the agency were overstretched.” He told us that the programme “was off track and needed action taking” when he joined the Department and described how, in summer 2014, the Department “reset that business case and the entire programme” by changing the scope and timing of the programme. While he acknowledged that “there were some further problems that took it off track” subsequent to his overhaul of the programme, he attributed this to an upgrade of online systems and commercial problems with the providers.
15.We were also concerned about whether the DBS remained committed to achieving that plan or whether it now seeks to reset the objectives to redefine modernisation. We pointed to the risks in the DBS relying on a decade-old system that would require replacement, and its desire to go into a multi-year process of agility, flexibility and piecemeal break-up. We see a clear difference between the original modernisation programme and the DBS’s more recent thinking. The DBS is either replacing outdated systems, which is a high-impact, high-intensity replacement activity that takes a number of years, or it is not, leading to the need to accept additional risks, particularly of relying on existing infrastructure and a 17-year old system.
16.Further to the recommendation made in our report of May 2018, we asked about the progress made by the DBS to review the fees charged to employers and the public by the DBS. The Home Office confirmed that it had committed to reviewing the entire fee structure with DBS and that this review has been completed. The Home Office has developed proposals to reduce fees which it is currently discussing with HM Treasury to gain its approval for fee changes, in accordance with “Managing Public Money”. The Home Office’s expectation is that DBS will be able to reduce its fees later this year across most of the DBS’ products range.
17.The DBS also confirmed that the unit cost for the Update Service has fallen below £22, the level reported to the Committee last March. The DBS has written to the Committee in confidence to outline the planned changes to fees and, subject to agreement with HM Treasury and secondary legislation it expects to implement the changes in October 2019.
18.DBS appointed the new Chair of its Board in December 2018 and will appoint a new Chief Excutive Officer in the summer of 2019. These senior leadership changes will provide the opportunity to set out a clear vision for the organisation and the services it offers, together with its exploitation of the systems by placing them in a wider market. However, the Home Office repeatedly referred to DBS having a new Chair who will develop the DBS’s next strategy. It runsthe risk of placing too much reliance on the appointment of one (part-time) individual to oversee all these changes and address DBS’ organisational drift.
22 Qq 130, 144
23 Q 11
24 Committee of Public Accounts, , 1 April, Qq 34, 35
25 Committee of Public Accounts, , 1 April, Qq 26, 37
26 Committee of Public Accounts, , 1 April, Qq 27, 34
27 Q 150
28 Committee of Public Accounts, , Forty-Second Report of Session 2017–19, HC 695, 25 May 2018
29 Qq 150–152
30 Committee of Public Accounts, , 19 March 2018
31 Q 153
Published: 1 May 2019