Meeting date: Tuesday, May 17, 2022
Finance and Public Administration Committee 17 May 2022 [Draft]
Agenda: National Performance Framework: Ambitions into Action, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Budget (Website)
- National Performance Framework: Ambitions into Action
- Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Budget (Website)
Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Budget (Website)
The next item is to take evidence on the Scottish Parliament’s website as part of our scrutiny of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body’s budget.
We are joined today by Jackson Carlaw MSP, member of the SPCB. He is accompanied by Scottish Parliament officials Michelle Hegarty, deputy chief executive; Alan Balharrie, group head of digital services; and Susan Duffy, group head of engagement and communications. Good morning and welcome to the meeting. I invite Mr Carlaw to make some opening remarks.
There has been quite detailed correspondence between us, so I do not think that there is any particular need to repeat all that, and we are quite happy to move straight to questions.
However, I point out that I am not a website designer or an information technology specialist—I am probably one of those dinosaurs who is the last person that you would consult on any such matters. Like many other laypeople probably do, I imagine that you can go to Currys PC World and buy a website for £5.99 and that that will probably suffice. However, with an organisation as huge and complex, and of such public interest, as the Parliament, it is important that we have an accessible website, given that it is accessed by many people from not just within but outwith the Parliament, including from around the world.
You will need to bear in mind that the previous website was launched 10 years ago, which was the same time that the iPad was launched. So much has changed in life since then, not least with mobile communications and people’s ability to access things in ways that are quite different from how things were accessed previously. I am afraid that the previous website had become largely obsolete, it was incapable of being maintained and it was certainly not something that could be accessed easily. It required to be upgraded.
The inability of the public to access the website was very much a feature of the public engagement meetings that were conducted by the commission on parliamentary reform, which was established by Ken Mackintosh and on which I was pleased to sit. It might be the case that users in the building who were familiar with the website felt able to access it with ease, but that was not the case for those trying to engage from elsewhere. That was the corporate body’s justification and reasoning when it took the decision some years ago to commence the establishment of a new website.
That is how the new website came about. I know that you will have detailed questions on what came about and, possibly, the process that led to that as well. We are very happy to take your questions. Michelle Hegarty, Alan Balharrie and Susan Duffy will assist me—or perhaps prevent me from contributing—as we go through the questions.11:15
Thank you for your helpful opening statement. Committee members have great interest in the issue, so I will restrict myself and will try not to ask myriad questions. However, obviously, I will kick off with a few.
The committee has a focus on a couple of areas, one of which is our scrutiny function and how the website relates to that. The cost itself is, of course, also a major issue for us. I do not pretend to be an expert on websites either, but, as you said, simply Googling websites shows that you can buy one for just a few hundred pounds. We realise that this is a complex organisation, but, again, I understand that, for major organisations, the cost of introducing a website is considerably less than what the Scottish Parliament appears to have paid—by a number of zeros. The timescale for developing it is also a matter of concern.
The committee was sent a list of the cost of other websites, including, for example, those of various UK Government departments. The cost varies from £14,000 to millions of pounds. However, we do not know whether we are comparing apples with apples and oranges with oranges because we have not been provided with a great amount of detail.
The Parliament’s project began in 2017, with cost and delivery spanning subsequent years until 2021. However, no specific costs are provided against the web project for each year. I am keen to find out why that is.
A response from the Presiding Officer states that
“The web project budget was put forward by the Digital Strategy Board, as part of the overall project portfolio bid which comprises part of the SPCB’s annual budget bid from 2017/18. SPCB approves the Parliament annual budget bid and its indicative bid for the next financial year”,
as we know. However, we are also advised that
“Officials have also recognised the need to provide increased detail on major multi-year project costs as part of the annual budgeting process to the SPCB and Finance and Public Administration Committee.”
Therefore, the obvious question is why the committee was not previously provided with that detail. When did the realisation dawn that we should receive that detailed information? When did SPCB members become aware of the on-going costs of the project? I have heard a number of views that they were not necessarily au fait with the details.
Michelle will come in, but the corporate body was made aware of both the overall project when it was launched back in 2017 and the years over which it would run. The budget for the website was not separately identified in each year. It is accommodated in the overall IT and digital budgets, so there was never any exceptional item. It is one of those things, along with maintenance of the building, that have to be planned for on an annualised basis over a period of time. Therefore, the corporate body was aware of it, in the sense that we understood the case for the new website and had been given an indicative idea of the likely cost of and timescale for website development. However, given that lead times for different bits of the project can be compromised in any one year, it was not necessarily the case that any one part of it was scheduled within the budget and identified separately as the bit of the website development that would happen in that particular calendar year.
You are right that it is reasonable for a Parliament to point to other Government services’ websites, because we are not a commercial business—we are a Parliament with an obligation to both internal and external users to ensure that we have a website that is fit for purpose with the capacity to serve the Parliament not just for a year but for the decade ahead.
Convener, excuse me if I do not cover all your questions. Please just repeat any that I do not answer. I will build on what Jackson has said about the corporate body’s involvement, which is obviously at a strategic level to approve, on the advice of its officials, the budget bid, which comes to the Finance and Public Administration Committee for scrutiny each financial year.
Behind the scenes, the clerk/chief executive has responsibility for the day-to-day functions that are involved in the running of the Scottish Parliament, which is delegated to him under the Scotland Act 1998. In turn, group heads, such as Alan Balharrie and Susan Duffy, have responsibility delegated to them over their areas of business, including all projects and programmes that are undertaken.
The budget bid for this project was created and developed during 2016 and was put to the then Finance and Constitution Committee in an evidence session that took place in December that year. It then went through the process that begins with consideration by the digital strategy board, which has a strategy for how the organisation can take forward digital investment and which prioritises the range of investments that it feels need to be undertaken to address that strategy. Its findings are put to the strategic resources board, which is made up of me and the clerk/chief executive, with input from the chief financial officer. We look at the prioritisation of the entire Parliament budget, but within that we consider prioritisation in the project budget, which is usually about £4.5 million—latterly £5 million—and is part of this year’s overall Parliament budget of £112 million, excluding capital costs.
In terms of scrutiny, the strategic resources board determines the prioritisation between the different portfolios, because digital is only one of a number of areas in which we have project spend—the other area that is most significant is facilities management, which concerns the infrastructure and services that are involved in running the building. We make priority decisions across all of that and examine the detail of how the prioritisation has been undertaken by the different business areas. That then goes forward to our leadership group, where we again scrutinise the budget bid before we give our advice to the corporate body. The corporate body usually looks at the budget in a few different ways before signing it off, at which point it is sent to the Finance and Public Administration Committee for scrutiny.
That is the process that would have been undertaken under the various delegations of power from the clerk/chief executive down to the group heads, and through the governance that we have as officials before the corporate body is advised.
Okay, but from here on in, are you looking to give us the breakdowns that were not provided previously?
At the moment, when we bring our budget bid to you—which we will next do in December—we set out all of the various components of the Parliament’s budget, such as members’ expenses and office-holders’ salaries, and we also have schedule 3, which gives more of the detail on what we expect to deliver in terms of projects. We give a high-level overview of the key elements of the project budget, but we do not do that with every project—obviously, there are numerous projects that are undertaken in the organisation, so we pull out the most significant areas of spend.
Over the past four years, we have been doing something that we are keen to build into how we approach the corporate body and the Finance and Public Administration Committee. We have started to develop a project pipeline that is looking over a five to six-year period to try to even out project spend. Where we see that there is going to be multiyear spend on a project or programme of work, we will try to say to the corporate body and the Finance and Public Administration Committee not only that we can meet the spending within our indicative budgets in the annual cycle but that there is likely to be two or three-year spend, and we will give a high-level estimate of cost.
The corporate body reviews these things, but in the sense that they are approved projects in a schedule, so there is a monitoring and an understanding of how the work is progressing. The corporate body might be more exercised by a project that comes out of left field and for which there has been no provision, such as Police Scotland’s recommendations in relation to security in the building, none of which had been anticipated in a five or 10-year plan and which required to be progressed with a degree of urgency. In such a case, the corporate body considers the recommendations and total costs, and the recommendations may or may not be accepted as we decide what we are going to authorise and the exceptional item of expense that we have to approve.
Let us move on to the tender. We were advised that specialist technical staff were procured through existing framework contracts and the technology behind the site was also procured through an existing contract that was in place at the time. Why was the project not put out to tender?
I invite Alan Balharrie to answer that.
We had current contracts in place that we wanted to use. Obviously, that let us move forward at a faster pace to get things going.
Excuse me? A faster pace? It took three or four years to develop the website.
It would have taken an extra year if we had added on a procurement exercise, which we did not really need to do. The contracts were already in place, and we could use those. The procurement phase for a high-value project would typically take between nine months and 12 months, following the standard procurement policies and procedures that we have in place in the Parliament.
The frameworks were in place—they were let either through mini-competitions in the Government frameworks that are in place or through a framework that includes multiple suppliers. In that latter case, each time that we use the interim services contract, we approach seven companies and ask them to submit responses and give us the best value for money from that contract.
I think that, in relation to normal procurement in the real world outside this building, a website can usually be produced in a week or a month—when I look around, I do not see anyone saying that it will take three or four years. There seems to be a lack of reality here compared to the rest of the world.
Jackson Carlaw talked about having a website that makes it easier for users who are less familiar with parliamentary processes, such as members of the public, to find and understand information. However, as an MSP, I find the current website more difficult to manage than the one that we had before. The very fact that you have to go to the old website to look at the Official Report is a complete nonsense.
What do people in this Parliament and in the general public actually want to use the Parliament website for? They want to look at the Official Report, committee reports, questions, motions and parliamentary bills. You tell us that this is an incredibly complicated and sophisticated technological solution to some indecipherably complex problem, but people simply want to know who submitted a motion on what, who asked a question on what, and what bills are coming up. Are we really expected to believe that we got value for money in a £3 million project that took years to complete and is, frankly, a camel—that is, a horse designed by a committee. To me, it is a mess, and I know that other colleagues feel the same way. Is this really the best that we can do for the huge amount of investment that went in?
That is a suitably pejoratively phrased question, convener. As someone who does not access websites and things, I might find these things complicated, too. It certainly is the case that, if you were an internal building user, you understood how the previous website worked and were familiar with your way around it. However, it was a hugely lugubrious website. It had hundreds of thousands of documents in it, which were slowing down its operation and decreasing its efficiency. That is unlike any website for any Government department or Parliament that you would expect to come across. Our content was extremely dense and, if you were not one of the internal building users who was familiar with the site, you would not have had a good experience using it.
Have we got a final product that is incapable of evolving further? I am sure that that is not the case. I know that Susan Duffy is very much involved in engagement around how the website might progress, so it might be worth while hearing from her at this point.
With regard to the model for the development of the website, we wanted to develop our in-house capability. We did not want to build a website that was incapable of being improved—that was a lesson that we had learned from the previous website in 2010. The website was handed over to us in a state in which we could take it forward in-house. Through the course of the project, we have developed our in-house expertise in teams in my group and in Alan Balharrie’s group, so that we can constantly develop and improve the website. No website is ever finished, and we very much appreciate that there are certainly mixed views on the website.
Jackson Carlaw talked about people from outside the Parliament not being able to use the website as easily as we might want them to. That is important from an engagement perspective.11:30
I will give you an example. On the old website, if someone wanted to engage with a consultation that a committee was running, they would have needed to know which committee was looking at which issue, and they would have needed to go on to the website and find that particular committee. However, on the new website, there is a list of consultations that is organised by the issues that are being looked at, rather than by committees. I know that that is different from the way that it was done before. I used to head up the committee office, so I had a good idea of which committee was scrutinising which issue. I do not have as much knowledge of that now, and I find that feature helpful.
I suggest that that is a relatively minor point, given that there are other search functions and features that people would probably use more frequently. I will touch on only one other area, because I know that my colleagues are keen to come in.
We looked at areas of spend, which I found quite interesting. For example, in 2019-20, the cost of salaries for people who were working on the project was £928,000. The amount that was spent on software was £4,000. The following year, the cost of salaries was £940,000, and £2,000 was spent on software. What kind of salaries were the people who were working on the project being paid? How many people were working on the project?
We employ contractors with specialist skills on day rates. The costs that you mentioned are attributed to those contractors’ salaries. The rates varied throughout the project and would have ranged from £300 per day up to £840 per day, depending on the skill set of the person and the market value at the time.
Even with people being paid £300 a day or £840 a day, it still took years to produce the website. The response from the Presiding Officer said that,
“Apart from the challenges of managing and co-ordinating a large team virtually ... members of the team”,
had to deal with issues
“such as childcare and home schooling”.
Honestly! Basically, we are spending all that money but must also accept that folk who were earning those huge day rates had to juggle home schooling and childcare. Was that not taken into consideration?
I will come in there and clarify that point. Alan Balharrie referred to the specialist day-rate card, which was obviously part of a contract that had been let at scale in the public sector. We use framework contracts because they offer better value for the public sector.
I will address your point about the various things that impacted on the project. The website was delivered largely according to the timeframe that was set out. You mentioned home schooling. We obviously had not envisaged the pandemic hitting towards the end of the project; naturally, there were a number of challenges in delivering the project because of it. For your benefit, we have set out that we had to introduce two new services in Parliament—the remote voting system and the hybrid parliamentary business platform—which were not projects that had been envisaged, but we had to address them in order to keep Parliament running. As I understand it, some of the specialist staff were deployed on those contracts.
As members’ staff would have had to do, some staff had to go home and deal with the fact that schools were shut for a period during the pandemic, and others would have had Covid or other illness. We were balancing a range of factors that naturally impacted on capacity levels in the Parliament—as members would have been.
That was coupled with the fact that there was a demonstrable uptick in Parliamentary business in the last two years of the previous parliamentary session. Staff who were not specialists who had been engaged to deliver the website needed to be trained to support the website when it went to business as usual, which presented capacity challenges because of the support that was required for Parliamentary business.
All those were challenges that we would have expected—with the exception of Covid—and we have had to try to navigate them as part of delivering Parliament-run business and other projects that are part of that business.
People were earning more than £200,000 a year on a day-rate basis for the project. How many people were working on the project? Based on £850 per day, that works out to 1,100 person days. If you work on £300, the figure is 3,000 person days. I imagine that the real figure is somewhere between that. How many folk were working on the project on an on-going basis? How many specialists were needed?
I do not have that figure to hand, convener; I am sorry. I think that roughly 10 to 12 contractors were employed at any given time. We also engaged our own staff.
On the difference in salaries—which you referenced from the table—it is worth pointing out that the backfill was actually the recruitment of two parliamentary staff, so they were under our terms and conditions. When the high day-rate contractors whom we brought in could not attend due to childcare issues or whatever, they did not receive any payment. If they were off ill or on holiday or could not attend due to childcare demands during the pandemic, they were not paid by us.
I will open the meeting up to questions from colleagues. Daniel Johnson will be first, followed by Michelle Thomson.
There are two primary issues. One is transparency about up-front decision making. The second is the amount of information that was provided by the project on an ongoing basis.
Mr Carlaw, neither of us is a website developer, but we are both businesspeople. In business, if you have undertakings with multiyear obligations it is a good idea—indeed, if you are a large business, it is a requirement—to specify those adequately on your profit and loss account. In the 2017-18 budget submission from the SPCB, the only indication that the Parliament was undertaking a £3 million website contract is a little line in schedule 3, which is the description against IT digital services projects. It reads as follows:
“Information Technology/Digital Change projects include rolling out the MSP case management system to more MSPs and their staff; delivering a new Parliament website and intranet”—
that is fair enough—
“software (Windows 10 and Office 365) and hardware upgrades for SPS staff; replacing the Parliament telephone system”.
What in those lines would have alerted our predecessor committee to the fact that the Parliament was undertaking a significant website contract? That fact is pretty hidden, is it not?
In the year to which you refer, I gave evidence to the previous finance committee and colleagues asked me questions about development of the new website, which are in the Official Report. Therefore, MSPs on the predecessor committee were aware of development of the website and interrogated me on it.
However, there was no real indication in the lines in schedule 3 that there was a three-year, £3 million undertaking, was there? Do you think that that was sufficiently transparent in terms of the level of detail that was provided, given the significance and scale of the website project?
With regard to the development and delivery of multiyear projects of core services that are provided by the Parliament, you could point to a number of different examples. Maintenance of the lifts is an example: you might ask how much you know about how much it is costing to replace or maintain the lifts in the building. Such costs are all incorporated within the particular line item elements of the budget. I think that the corporate body would be more concerned were it to find—we would be alerted to it—that there was a significant problem evolving in the development of a project that was now somehow spiralling out of control or had spiralling costs.
In each year—and at each meeting of the corporate body throughout the year—the various departments of the Parliament schedule fairly detailed and extensive reports, which we consider. I think that many of those are subsequently available to the public as minutes. So, I do think that it was sufficiently transparent.
With regard to the overall portfolio of a £100 million budget—it might have been about £80 million at that time—the level of detail that the committee sought or asked us about was accommodated. As I said, I was asked questions in that year and in subsequent years about the project’s ongoing development.
I appreciate that acknowledgement. I suggest that £3 million as a percentage of a £100 million budget would warrant further—
It was not £3 million in one year and the £100 million is an annual figure.
Indeed. However, in terms of the overall budget, it is a significant project. In order to understand whether it was getting out of control, we need that level of detail.
However, the problem with transparency goes a little further. On the detail that has been provided by the SPCB about how the costs are accounted for, all that we have been provided with is a schedule of resource costs set out according to whether they were for technical and non-technical contractors, but there is no specificity about what work they were doing.
I would expect, in any IT project, to see phases split up, so that we could understand where efforts are being applied—whether to initial analysis or to the design, build, testing or user acceptance phases, for example. Those are very basic things, but we do not have that level of detail. Why has it not been provided?
Yes —I can come in on that. What we provide to the Finance and Public Administration Committee is obviously an overview of the entire Parliament budget, which is £112 million this year. Within that, we obviously separate out members’ expenses and the costs of office holders, so we provide you with an overview of the Parliament budget. Within the bit that is project spend, we group things to give you some idea of the key elements of spend within it, but we do not give you the detail of the schedule of how it is going to be delivered or the methodology. Officials are delegated and charged by the corporate body with doing those things as part of running the Parliament.
I do not understand why, in table 2 of your written submission to the committee, you have described categories as being “areas of spend”, but that is not what they are. The table is a time profile that is broken down by resource type. In order to get a good handle on any IT project, you need to understand that effort by phase, do you not?
We do not give you that detail; it is available to Alan Balharrie and the digital strategy board.
There is also reporting against the milestones in the project, which comes to the leadership group on a quarterly basis and is reflected up to the corporate body. There is reporting against the key strategic milestones of the delivery plan for the project. That goes on with officials, and it is reported to the corporate body. The digital strategy board took regular reporting on the project as it was being developed, and beneath that board are a strategy board and a project team that do regular reporting, as well.
It is the job of officials to get on and run the project. What we provide to the Finance and Public Administration Committee every year is key areas of spend that we expect to see within the grouped programmes. That spend is usually on IT; it can also be on facilities management. In other years, it will be broadcasting and in others it will be security, depending on what projects officials have advised the corporate body need to be undertaken to run Parliament, address risk and replace ageing infrastructure.
From looking at the detail that has been presented and from hearing some of the answers today, one of my key concerns is the level of granularity at which the project has been monitored and managed. Mr Carlaw said that it is not possible to specify which bit of spend would have occurred in which year, but I suggest that that is precisely what you should be able to do in a well-run IT project. In a well-run IT project, as I said before, you should understand what levels of effort were required at each phase, and have a project management office that tracks those things, using things such as Gantt charts and projected spend. That seems not to be what we see. I would be grateful if that detail could be provided.
In particular, I am very concerned by the category “non-technical Contractors”, which accounts for almost a third of the total costs. That is a very non-specific category of work. Can you explain why you were using third-party contractors to deliver the project? Managing individual contractors on an individual basis seems to be a very complicated way of managing a project like this, but it seems to be what happened.
Before I hand over to Alan, I will come in on the governance question. The things that you refer to, such as Gantt charts, might be used where a project is following a typical waterfall approach. There are other methodologies, including the agile methodology, which is now commonplace in the digital world. Maybe Alan will pick up on that.
Estimated costs, phases, milestones and all those things were in place as part of project governance. That is part of delegation to the group heads from the clerk/chief executive. The groups need to manage their budgets; they must have proper administration of their budgets and provide assurance to the clerk/chief executive that they are doing that.
In addition, there is performance reporting from various strands—project team, project board, digital strategy board and all the way up to advice to leadership group—and there is a quarterly performance report to the corporate body. That is just to assure you that we follow standard governance when it comes to projects and programmes. However, that granularity sits with officials.
I will hand over to Alan on the contractor spend.
As I stated earlier, I think, our strategic intent in the project was to make sure that we built the capability in-house. We went out through the contractor route to get in specialist expertise, including on the non-technical side, for things such as the product owner role and user research. Those are not true technical skills, such as developers and technical architects have, but they are part of the project environment for producing a new website. We were learning from those contractors as we went. When we eventually switched over, we had enough knowledge in the office to run the project ourselves.11:45
On the governance question, the elements that you are talking about were all available at project level. Sprints were used, rather than the classic waterfall approach that Michelle Hegarty mentioned. We used four-week sprints, with clear plans about what was going to be delivered. We created a sprint backlog, with risk management and so on.
Where required, the project team elevated things up to the project board. From the project board, they were elevated to our digital strategy board or to our leadership group. They were reported on quarterly to the corporate body through our quarterly reporting mechanism, but reporting was at a very high level by the time it got to the corporate body, compared with reporting on the individual elements of what was being delivered day to day.
Can you clarify something for me? On the basis of that answer, I am still not clear about why you took the decision to deliver the project using third-party contractors rather than a single contract. Surely, that is inherently more complicated to manage. You acknowledged that there was not the expertise in-house to build the website. Was there expertise in-house to manage the variety and number of contractors that you have clearly been employing?
We did project management capability at the time, so we put in place our own project manager and our own senior responsible owner for the project, who had experience in digital projects. We put those people in place to govern the project.
Where we needed to bring in skills that we did not have around development of the website, we did so through the contractor route and passed that knowledge on. A key part of the project was that we made sure that we were developing people internally so that, at the end of it, we would have the capability to continue to develop the website.
That capability has been used elsewhere within the organisation—a couple of other websites for parliamentary business and the festival of politics were built by our in-house team. Also, the skill set that we developed through that allowed us to develop the voting application in a very short time, using the same tools and techniques that we have used throughout the project. A lot of knowledge has been passed on.
Okay. I could ask more questions, but I do not want to use up more time.
I would be grateful if somebody could write to the committee to clarify a couple of things. A number of boards and management groups have been mentioned; it would be good to get some documentation on how they interrelate and how the governance works.
Secondly, if the agile methodology was used, I would be grateful for an explanation as to why, because it strikes me that the project had a clear functional footprint, so I wonder whether the agile methodology was at all appropriate for delivering a website project such as this one.
I will make one general observation and perhaps make a constructive point.
As Michelle Hegarty identified, in terms of the high-level information that the committee receives, we are looking at one particular project; there have been questions about why there was not more information in relation to the project. I think that if we were to drill down into all the projects that the corporate body is overseeing and progressing, and provide the committee with that level of detail on them all, that would not be helpful or productive either for the progress of the budget or for the committee’s understanding of where it wanted to focus its attention.
If, on the other hand, there is a particular area of development in Parliament that is the responsibility of the corporate body and on which, ahead of the budget presentation, you would like to have more detailed information—such as you are perhaps seeking today in relation to the website—the corporate body could supply such detail in advance of its presentation to the finance committee.
Thank you. We will certainly discuss that in private.
To follow on from a couple of earlier points, I have a question for Jackson Carlaw. I appreciate that the corporate body sits at accountability level and that a multitude of projects are going on, as Michelle Hegarty set out. However, given what we know now, it is fair to say that the cost of development of the new Parliament website has at least raised some eyebrows and caused some interest. What recommendations will you be looking to put in place on how the corporate body can fulfil its accountability responsibilities more carefully? I am sure that you have reflected on that.
I joined the corporate body just after the discussions about the website had taken place. I was handed the portfolio and had to go straight to the then Finance and Constitution Committee to sell the project, which was interesting. Those of you who have longer memories will remember that that was just after Alex Johnstone’s death, which caused my accession to the corporate body.
I have been involved in a series of projects in the years that I have been with the corporate body—for three years previously, and again since the election last year. Someone like me, who has been in business, looks at and them and thinks, “Crikey! This is a pretty eyewatering way of achieving things.” I am reminded at times that we are a Parliament.
I suppose that my mother would take the view that she would not change the light bulb in our kitchen until it popped, because she was going to get value for money from it. I think that If we took that view about the infrastructure of the building and just waited for things to fail—for the website, the lifts and everything else to fail; the telephone system might be next—people would not thank us for it. There clearly has to be a long-term projected look at wear and tear, obsolescence and the need to upgrade and monitor things, for which we need to plan over a number of years.
In this case, I know nothing about websites. Given the alacrity with which my SPCB colleagues agreed that I would represent them this morning, I take the view that there is no great depth of expertise among them—and naturally, therefore, in the corporate body—on the project.
With regard to our on-going monitoring of the website project, we have an idea of what the original estimate and the timescale were. We receive detailed information on all the expensive projects—some of which we can relate to more easily than others.
I hope that we will reflect on whether there are lessons to be learned from the way that this project has emerged and from the concern that has been expressed about it. I think that we have already suggested that the corporate body will have further discussion of whether other protocols could be put in place, and of whether there are natural points in the year when we should look at those things, just to ensure that we are offering whatever level of scrutiny we can offer within the portfolio of responsibility that we have.
You have now gone on to the bit that I was specifically asking about. In effect, your neck is on the block and we have heard various people say, “Well, I have never run an IT project,” which to me indicates a much higher risk with regard to scrutiny and the need for governance at the SPCB level. It is almost as if you are operating at board level, and any typical board would say that those are the projects that carry more risk and are therefore the ones for which we need greater scrutiny or capacity for scrutiny.
You have reflected that you will certainly look at the matter more carefully, but I now feel a wee bit alarmed that, for various reasons, the SPCB is not able to fulfil its role in scrutinising the workings of Parliament. I am not surprised at the fact that, guess what, IT projects are always complex and always go over budget and take longer—I know that because I have run IT projects.
To pick up on what Daniel Johnson has said, I personally would like to see out of this discussion a report that is produced on behalf of the SPCB and which the SPCB has signed off saying, from a governance perspective, what specifically will change in the light of this project and what we will learn from it.
I will ask Michelle Hegarty to come in, but that report exists to some extent—we have a red-amber-green traffic-light warning report on all the risks and developments in the Parliament and on the progress that has been made against them. It is not that such things come to us only if we ask for them—we are proactively alerted to them.
The website project came largely within budget and on time, with the caveat that the pandemic complicated things because resources had to be diverted away from its development to things such as the hybrid working of Parliament, for which we had no advance notice, provision or additional staffing that we could deploy, other than those people who were working on the website at the time. I would therefore take issue with the idea that the corporate body is not being advised of all those things.
On the point about governance, I reiterate that there was clear governance in place in the form of the governance that we would normally follow for projects and the various strata of that that I outlined. I am happy to provide a note with my colleagues of what that entails. There were clear delegations to two group heads for their operational areas of accountability, for budget performance and the administration of that, as well as clear checks in our financial systems and audit with an external audit board with Audit Scotland on it.
We have a risk register that the leadership group regularly reviews. We also have quarterly performance reporting against the delivery of our delivery plan and our strategic plan using the red-amber-green—or RAG—status that Jackson Carlaw noted. We are therefore constantly reprioritising and tackling issues, addressing and seeking to mitigate risk, and ensuring proper financial and performance management of the organisation.
I am entirely familiar with everything that you said, and I have no doubt that it is happening. However, given today’s session and the concerns that have come out of the Finance and Public Administration Committee, it is clear that there has been a mismatch. It is that mismatch that I am pulling out. If it were me, I would be looking carefully at avoiding that mismatch happening again. However, I want to move on, because I know that every colleague wants to come in.
I will pick up on a comment that Daniel Johnson made. I would not necessarily agree about the methodology that is used for projects. We know that the world has moved on from waterfall projects. However, where we have an agile methodology—which is of course sold by the IT consultants as much more flexible—it can often mean that we have increased costs. We are developing multiple prototypes and so costs can mount in that area. The fact that we do not have to do a big, huge analysis project up front, which is then out of date, is sold as a benefit.
I am not entirely sure what fits in where. However, looking at the figures, I notice that—[Interruption.].
My thing has just died, so I have to log in again. I may be able to quote the figures in a minute. However, between the alpha and beta phases, quite a number of prototypes were clearly going on. It looks to me like a disproportionately high number of prototypes, which could even suggest that different personnel were coming in and going out. The whole point of agile methodology is that you develop a prototype and test it and that it is iterative as compared to the old waterfall approach. Perhaps Alan Balharrie will give us more context on that.
Very quickly, I note that it is the approach that is used by the UK Government digital service and by the Scottish Government for its digital projects. The waterfall approach is also still used, but the terminology that is used is almost that of a bimodal approach, depending on the project. It is therefore a familiar approach.
On the particular point about iteration, the iterations that we delivered were lots of different additions to the initial prototypes. We were adding more services as we went. We did user testing as part of that and refined some of those. In fact, some of the feedback that we received from the corporate body around things such as the postcode search meant that we changed the order of presentation of things such as that. It was therefore not only that we were polishing a particular set of functions; rather, we were continuing to add functionality in moving towards the goal of moving across to what was the beta site and was to be our actual website and letting the old site wither on the vine at that point.
I do not disagree with what you are saying. I am simply saying that, based on my experience, that is an area in using agile methodologies where costs can be incurred, because you have a multilayering effect. Again, I am very much aware of that from a risk perspective as a former IT project manager—many years ago, I have to concede.
I turn to my last question. In the typical project continuum, you always have a trade-off between cost, time and quality. I would like an honest reflection—perhaps from all of you—on those areas. What did you trade: time, cost or quality? Knowing what you know now, what would you trade? If anyone says that time, cost and quality were all of an equally high standard, I note that all the evidence tells us that that is never the case for IT projects.
I will start with Jackson Carlaw, although I appreciate that he will need to bring his staff in.12:00
I do not know that I came to those value judgments on the development of the website any more than I do over whether it is time, quality or cost on the lift refurbishment programme.
The key point is that the corporate body is acutely aware that it is public money—that is where we start from in our examination—and that we must have a product that matches the quality and expectation of the Parliament. However, we defer and delegate to the people who are charged with the relevant responsibility for taking the project forward. We do not interfere in an executive way in the operational decisions that you just asked about.
However, knowing what you know now, will you ask in future about what is being traded in relation to time, cost and quality?
The Finance and Public Administration Committee has its variable interest from one year to the next. I often used to be interrogated at excruciating length about the commissioners. The committee’s interest can shift in any given year, given the priorities of the public understanding of the Parliament’s work. The question that you put has to go to the people who were charged with delivering the project.
You rightly recognised the difficult balance that we are faced with on the time and costs involved in any project, Ms Thomson. We were conscious that, if we took too long in developing our staff and getting them up to speed, the costs would increase because of the model that we chose to use—using contractors. We always thought that the project would take about three years and, despite Covid, we put a large push on to ensure that we finished roughly on time.
That was the time and cost element. At that point, we had built the in-house capability to improve the quality so, if anything, we gave a little bit on the quality. We are trying to serve multiple masters—the different users of our website—on quality. There are a variety of users: members, their staff, the public for our engagement needs, and political commentators and journalists. They all use our website.
If anything, we gave a little bit on the quality. It is always a delicate balance. You are moving things around and judging them function by function.
I perhaps take a different view from some of the committee members in that I was surprised that the work had not been started in the 10 years when it was known that the operating system had become obsolete. Provisioning for IT is invariably expensive and only goes one way in any organisation. That seems to have been quite a long time to wait to start the project. I would appreciate your reflections on that, Alan. As I said, everyone needs to understand that it is a continuing, risky, built-in cost to the Parliament all the time, because that is the nature of IT and digital services. However, I would like to understand why it took so long.
We would have liked to have started the project a bit earlier, to be honest, and to have been able to maintain it. When we put the previous website in place, it was done by a contractor who completed the task and moved on, so we were left looking to support it.
We went through a lot of resourcing issues in the IT team to get the project going and we still struggle to recruit and retain people. There were also changes at the senior management level in the ownership of the website and the services around it, with Susan Duffy taking it on late on in the project. In an ideal world, we would have moved a little bit faster but, given the resourcing and finance available, that was about the time that we had to do it in the Parliament.
We were getting by for a few years and were content with that, but it got to the point where we were worried about a catastrophic failure. The National Cyber Security Centre notified us that, because the website was no longer being updated and improved, it presented a cyber-risk. The centre had identified that someone had made an attack against the UK Government but had also probed our website and looked for spaces in it. That was the final straw that got us moving on the project.
I am not surprised to hear that.
I will bring Susan Duffy in. There have been a few points at which we have talked about comms with the various governing bodies and the committee. Would you like to add anything to the record on what you would consider doing differently?
The point that you make about continuous improvement is a good one. Earlier, you asked about striking the balance, and Alan Balharrie also spoke about having to make that judgment. In March 2021, we judged that the technical platform was in place and we would be able to hand it over internally. At that point, we knew that there were still aspects that we wanted to look at reasonably immediately to try to make further improvements.
We will always have a rolling programme of continuous improvements as things evolve and as we get more feedback. However, at that time, we took the decision that we wanted to move across because we felt that we were in a position where we could take it forward and we did not want to incur any further costs by keeping external contractors on for longer than was needed. We also wanted to have the website in place for the new parliamentary session.
That is not quite an answer to the question that I asked, but I will let it go in order to let other members come in.
My question is not about the functionality of the website but about the project initiation process and governance. Was it an agreed project and who signed it off? Was the overall cost of the project budget approved and, if so, by whom? Was the scope of the project agreed and, if so, by whom? Were the timescales of the project agreed and, if so, by whom?
I think that the answer to that is largely yes, and by the corporate body, on the advice that we received.
The digital strategy board puts together various projects—many more than just this project—that then go to the strategic resources board, which I currently chair. We then look at the entire parliamentary budget to advise the corporate body what it will take to run the Parliament, keep the lights on and improve the Parliament or address risk where we have things that might fall over or could present a cybersecurity risk and so on.
That board has an additional challenge function, based on all the previous challenges in the business areas, which is to look at the nature and shape of the different pots that make up the Parliament budget and, within that, the pots that make up the project spend. When we are satisfied with that, we advise the corporate body at several different meetings, on the Parliament’s overall budget. The SPCB is the ultimate body that signs off the bid that goes forward for scrutiny by the finance committee.
Would the corporate body know that the overall cost of the website was more than £3 million or would it just be presented with comments such as, “This year it’s going to cost £100K and next year it’s going to cost £100K more”?
We were working on an annual budgetary cycle and the corporate body looks at that. As I said, over the past four years, we have been trying to improve the project pipeline, which looks ahead to where there might be multiple years of spend to deliver something, such as the lifts or the web and things like that. We have improved that pipeline. The corporate body is now starting to get that overview.
At that time, the corporate body would not have been aware of the overall cost of the project, and the finance committee would not have been aware of the overall cost of the project. It is like me going out to buy a car; I would not buy the wheels one year and the engine the next year—I need to know how much the car is going to cost.
The corporate body would have known that the cost was within the indicative budget that was going up for each financial year. Looking back, there would not have been a total cost of that spend that the finance committee would have seen.
That is a complete failing. A project has been approved without people knowing its overall cost. It almost seems as though a framework agreement has been in place, which is more like a maintenance project for a website—just adding a bit more on every year. It did not go out to tender, so you did not know what the total cost was going to be—or maybe someone did—and you did not know what the scope would be because you had not drawn it up because there was no tender process. Am I wrong?
Alan Balharrie addressed the point about the tender process. The project used existing frameworks that had been tendered on behalf of the public sector. There was a tender process and we were using a framework—
There was a tender process for the resource that was going to be used for the project, but there was not a tender process for the overall project, so no one could know what the overall project was going to cost, although maybe somebody did.
There was an estimate of the overall cost, which the digital strategy board had, based on estimates in each of the financial years, over several years—as we set out in our response to the committee. When the committee took evidence, in one of the two evidence sessions, we talked about the fact that it was a multiyear project but the spend was within the indicative budget level for each of the financial years. The spend was contained within the annual budgeting cycle and there was no additional spend.
No, but no elected members were ever told what the complete overall costs of this project were.
In 2016, when we put up our evidence, we set out several things in the project schedule, some of which would be contained as projects within a financial year and some of which we flagged at the time as being things that might cross financial years. We did that with the website. What we did not have was a line saying that the project would cost £2.9 million in totality. Now that we have the project pipeline, we can go back and start to address that for the committee. When you are scrutinising our budget, we will be able to say what we are going to spend our time on in the current financial year and that we expect it to be a feature in quite a few of our budgets.
Michelle Hegarty’s point suggests that that is a lesson that has been learned: there is an overall project cost.
Yes. We have matured our project pipeline approach over the past few years and we can start to bring more of that to the table when we come before the committee.
This is my last point, convener. Was the scope of the project agreed at the outset, or is that something that has been added to over multiple years?
I will let Alan Balharrie come in on that, because he was involved in the scope of the project.
We undertook a discovery phase in the first year of the project, which outlined the scope. At the same time, we further identified that cost of the project.
Who was that scope agreed with? Did that go back to the corporate body?
The scope did not come to the corporate body, as far as I am aware. There was an update to the corporate body after that, outlining what we were going to be doing, but it was a high-level update, which was presented in March, before we kicked off the financial year 2018-19. It was put out to the digital strategy board prior to that. The project board would have taken the information to the board.
It does not seem as though the corporate body had any real knowledge—it was not presented with the facts about what the project was actually going to do and what the overall cost would be. The SPCB seems to have been as much in the dark as the finance committee at that time.
Can I come in on that? We have gone back and looked over the various documentation over the years. The delegation to officials is to develop and carry out all of the rigour around business cases being approved, challenged and assurance that those can be delivered, doing that budgeting and putting that advice up to the strategic resources board, which then looks at the strategic shape of the overall Parliament budget, juxtaposing the various elements that we need to balance.
The business case sits at senior level with officials who approve the detail of the business cases and then there are various checks and balances on that. The corporate body would not be signing off detailed business cases for projects, of which there are many in different areas of the Parliament in any given year—as Jackson Carlaw suggested.
The corporate body is putting forward a budget that is then approved by the finance committee, without us knowing what the overall cost is, until today.
We talk to the corporate body about the key areas of project spend, what they are going to deliver strategically for the Parliament—addressing risk and so on—and then we put forward the budget, saying what is accommodated in our project schedule. What you are talking about is that forward look.
Exactly. The corporate body was not given the complete project spend. That makes it difficult for the corporate body not to approve it, because it does not know how much it is going to be in total over several years.
However, what we were saying to the corporate body was that it was affordable in each annual budget. Our assurance to the corporate body was that it was affordable in each annual budget.
I take on board your point that we could set out that forward look and report on that a bit more to both the finance committee and the corporate body.
There are some things that we can afford, but it does not necessarily mean that we have to buy them.12:15
I want to make a couple of points. I am slightly more sympathetic to the team than some of my colleagues are. To be fair, the project has come in roughly on time and on budget, which is a good result, given that we have much experience of IT projects that have not done so.
I do not use the new website that much, and I find searching for things a little difficult. I was looking for a motion that I had lodged on councillor pay, but when I searched for “councillor pay”, the website gave me no results. I thought that the wording might have been something else, so I searched for “councillors’ pay”, and the system gave me one result, which was my motion. I wonder whether the public might struggle with things like that; unless a person knows the exact wording of a motion, they will struggle to find it. I will leave that with the team, because you said that the site will be developed.
In making my other point, I will probably reiterate what others have said. I do not think that I was on the Finance and Constitution Committee when the project started. Ms Hegarty, you said that you will present information slightly differently in future. I want to emphasise that it is important for a finance committee to know that a project will run on for several years. I think that that happened with the security enhancement project: I remember that the committee asked about that project and was given the information that it would go over more than one year.
As other members have just pointed out, if you had come back to the Finance and Constitution Committee in year 2 and it had said no, because money was tight, I presume that that would have meant that all the year 1 money would have been wasted. It is important for a finance committee—whoever is on it—to know what it is committing to. Correct me if I am wrong, but the committee is committing to a five-year project, when normally we commit budgets for only one year at a time. There is a risk to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body that your budgets for the second, third, fourth and fifth years might get knocked back if the finance committee does not understand that it is making a commitment for five years. Have I understood that correctly?
The finance committee scrutinises the overall Parliament budget and all the various bits that make up the totality. Project spend is only £4.5 million to £5 million out of £112 million and we have maintained our project budget at that level for many years—we should consider other organisations in that regard.
That involves choices. Officials have to scrutinise different projects and take a risk-based position. That takes me back to the convener’s point about affordability, which is one of the considerations. We eke out the life of things in order to push out costs, where we see that we can do that without catastrophic risk for the organisation. For example, the last time we replaced all the consoles and microphones in the chamber, we harvested a lot of the equipment so that it could be used to eke out the life of committee room equipment. We were looking at affordability in the round in the context of how we use our project spend.
We do that because we have to make choices. We have to make priority decisions every year, and on top of that, there might be a crisis situation such as we have had for the past couple of years. We have had to pedal furiously to address the increased resourcing costs to the organisation—such as the costs of enhanced cleaning, new service delivery so that we could operate during the pandemic, and additional equipment to enable people to work from home—and manage issues and projects such as the new website within our project budget without asking for more money. That is what we have managed to do.
We constantly reprioritise within our project budget in-year, and we look at spend across the years as we consider our medium-term financial planning, which we will speak to you about when we come back in December.
I am convinced that you are trying to keep costs down and not spend. There is a balance to be found between preventative maintenance and a reactive approach.
I stress that it is important that this committee understands that a project is going to take longer, because in effect the committee is pre-approving what would normally be a year-by-year budget.
On that point, I draw the panel’s attention to the letter that the committee received from the Presiding Officer, in which she said:
“Officials have also recognised the need to provide increased detail on major multi-year project costs as part of the annual budgeting process”.
She goes on to say that the committee should note that, because it is one of the Parliament’s larger investments,
“the project is scheduled to be reviewed as part of our internal audit programme.”
When is that audit due? Can you confirm that its results will be passed to this committee?
It will be within the current financial year. I will get back to you on when we anticipate it will happen in the audit programme. I also believe that it is a matter of public record, so those documents will be available.
Following on from Mr Mason’s point, I think it is important for us to be able to scrutinise multi-year projects. Obviously, we have to look at things on a yearly basis, but the forecasting for projections is important to the scrutiny of this committee, so any information that we could possibly have at the time of the internal audit would be immensely helpful to the committee.
The second thing I want to ask about is also in the Presiding Officer’s letter. She says that the investment has achieved certain things, and that the website is
“more resilient, stable, flexible, and robust”,
although we have heard varying views on that. She also says that it has reduced the possibility of a really awful cyberattack, which, as public bodies, we all have to accept can happen. We saw what happened to SEPA recently and how it made life very difficult for at least two Parliament committees—the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee and the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee in the previous parliamentary session—which had implications for the work that the Parliament could do. I am not asking you to give away any state secrets, but why are we confident that the possibility of a cyberattack has been addressed by the new system? It is a very important point. If we were to have a cyberattack, it could cause huge problems.
I begin by acknowledging and thanking the officials who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the sustained efforts of external parties who have sought to break into and corrupt our network have been frustrated and defeated on each occasion. The corporate body has been advised of those efforts and it takes the issue seriously. I seem to remember that we have seen briefings from Government Communications Headquarters—GCHQ—which is obviously very exciting. A genuine and sustained effort has been made to attack the network, and I know that the team has worked incredibly hard and succeeded in frustrating it. I also know that, in developing the new website, as Alan Balharrie will now explain, the understanding that that is an on-going issue is very much to the fore of our thinking.
We built in good design practices from the start of this project. It was one of the major risks of the old site. We did two things to reduce the risk, but I am not going to be complacent and say that we have eliminated the risk because we can never eliminate it. I hope that we will always be one step ahead of the bad people who will do this, but we cannot guarantee that.
We have put two things in place. With the new website and the team that we have on board, we are able to update it, maintain it, and keep it up-to-date, just as you do when you get updates for your mobile phone. We get those updates from the system that runs the website, and we make sure that they are applied as fast as possible. That helps us to prevent known faults becoming an issue for us and aiding a cyberattack.
The other thing that we undertake regularly with the website is what is called a penetration test: we test the system to see whether there are any faults and we address the faults or weaknesses that are identified. We are therefore coming at the issue from two perspectives, one of which is the preventative side and the other is tackling the cyberattack ourselves to see if we can break it. We also take advice and guidance from the Scottish Government resilience centre and from the National Cyber Security Centre around our security. It is a key issue for us.
Thank you. That is very helpful and encouraging.
My final point comes back to what the Presiding Officer said—you have alluded to this already—about one of the reasons for the redesign being to ensure that the website is more accessible and user friendly for members of the public and people who are outside this building. What are we doing to measure the responses of those stakeholders so that we know that what we have done is helping people to understand this place a bit better and to contribute to it?
I am happy to answer that question.
Throughout the course of putting in place the website, we tried to carry out a lot of consultation with different stakeholders, and we want to continue doing that. With regard to people who are external to the Parliament, we have a message that is constantly at the top of the website, which asks people to give us feedback on what they think about it. As part of the programme of continuous improvement, we get the results of the feedback, together with feedback that we get from internal users, specifically members.
In March, we held a drop-in session for members and their staff, and we will be holding another one in June. We want to hold those sessions quarterly because it is really important that we capture the feedback from all the different users and use it to make improvements to the website.
To go back to something that Alan Balharrie or Jackson Carlaw said earlier, we are aware that we have a number of different users, and it can be a complex process to build something that will meet the needs of all of them. From an engagement perspective, it was key for us to ensure that people who do not know how the Parliament is structured and how it operates are able to find things more easily. We will continue to act on that feedback.
Is the feedback from people who are outwith the building relatively positive?
As with most feedback, we have a mixed bag. There are people who very much like the way that the website is structured, and some people who have given us constructive suggestions. I do not pretend that the feedback is overwhelmingly positive, but nor is it overwhelmingly negative. As would be expected, it is a mixed bag.
We have already responded to feedback in number of ways, and a number of initiatives are already planned. As well as the matter of the range of users, the team also had to accommodate the significant issue of the number of ways in which people now seek to access the website. There has been a huge shift to using mobile digital technology to access it, which was not something that the previous system was capable of sustaining.
That concludes questions from other members of the committee. I have one or two questions to round up the evidence session.
On the issue of costs, I notice that the annual licensing support cost—which has not come up yet today—has increased from £54,000 to £86,000. Is there an explanation for the significant jump in cost?
I think that I know the reason for that, because we also asked that question, but Alan Balharrie should probably answer.
We are using a different product as the platform for the website—it costs more but it is a better product and it gives us a lot more functionality for our engagement. There is a lot more to it; we are using a more fulsome product, so it costs more annually.
Okay. Having covered the issues of costs and scrutiny, I will cover one other issue, which is quality. My question relates to a comment that Alan Balharrie made earlier. We had the referendum in September 1997 to set up this Parliament, and 20 months later, the Parliament was established. It had a functioning website that served us for many years. I recall that there were many IT problems—for example, our email inboxes only had a capacity of 50 megabytes, and there were other issues—but I do not remember many difficulties with the website.
I think that we all accept that we have to evolve, because more than 20 years have elapsed. There have been some upgrades, but this was a mega one. When Michelle Thomson talked about the trade-offs between time, cost and quality, Alan Balharrie said that we had to give a little on the quality. Surely if you take more than three years to develop a project, and spend more than £3 million, you should not have to concede anything on quality. Where have we conceded on that quality?
It was you who said that, Alan.12:30
Yes, it was. We conceded a little in quality to ensure that we did not have to keep the project running. As the convener has rightly highlighted, the project was costing us money every day, given the contractor costs. We wanted to finish that work as quickly as we could so that we could move it on to our own team. In doing so, we accepted that not everything was perfect. We could have kept polishing the website for many years, but we did not want to continue to pay those costs. Across the organisation, we changed our whole model for the website to one involving continuous improvement and development, and that is exactly what we will do—we will continue to improve the website and seek feedback from various people on it.
A basic thing that I referred to earlier is the fact that you have to go on to the old website to look at the Official Report. Surely that is a nonsense. I do not think that it is just a coincidence that, since the new website has been launched, for the first time in more than 20 years, members now get sent the Official Report every day. One might suspect that that is done so that we do not have to use the new website. Surely—
Convener, that is my fault. Since we stopped producing paper copies of the Official Report, I have become increasingly concerned that parliamentarians have not been bothering to access it and, therefore, might have less familiarity with the general business of the Parliament than was the case previously. Therefore, for no reason other than that it would be of enormous value to me, I requested that the Official Report be taken out of the general “go and find it” category and be proactively sent to all members every day, as used to be the case with the old paper copy.
Surely if the Official Report was more accessible online, most people would just access it online and would not have to have it sent to them every day. We will leave it at that.
I have a final question. Michelle Hegarty said that we need to “eke out the life” of equipment. However, this very day, there are IT people in my constituency office and in my office upstairs telling me that the laptops, which some staff have had for less than a year, need to be replaced and so on. We discussed retaining some of the technology, because it all works pretty well as far as we are concerned—it certainly works a lot better than it did a few years back—and we would rather not lose any of it. What is the necessity of that project? What will the overall cost be? We might want to further scrutinise that project later in the year.
We provided technology to new members after the election and we are refreshing the technology that is used by returning members. We are ensuring that members have the latest version of Windows installed on their devices. That is key in maintaining our estate. People need to be working on the latest version so that it is compatible with other applications and so that we maintain our cybersecurity stance, ensuring that there are no known issues. If would be fine if everyone worked in Holyrood and was hidden behind our hard shell, but that is not how things have worked out over the past two years, so we are refreshing our technology.
The easiest way for us to do that is to replace all the equipment at the same time. Equipment that is not more than four years old will be reused elsewhere, further down the line. We have put together a fighting stock so that we can replace equipment for members, and we will reuse equipment that still has good value to us. We try to eke out the life of equipment because we are very conscious of the tension between sustainability and the equipment’s speed and lifespan.
I understand the need for a software upgrade, but I find it surprising that hardware is being replaced.
It is easier and more cost effective for us to upgrade everything at once. If the equipment that we take from members is still serviceable, we will pass it on to others once we have fully updated it.
I thank the witnesses for their evidence. The committee will consider any next steps that arise from today’s session at a future meeting. We look forward to considering the SPCB’s budget bid for 2023-24 towards the end of the year, as part of our wider budget scrutiny process.
That concludes the public part of today’s meeting. Under the next agenda item, we will discuss a private paper and consider a work paper.12:34 Meeting continued in private until 12:49.