22 September 2004

S2M-1727 Holyrood Inquiry Report

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Our next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1727, in the name of Robert Brown, on the Holyrood inquiry report, and three amendments to the motion.
… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): If the past five years have told us anything about what needs to be changed in Scottish public life, it is about the way in which we make our decisions and implement them. It is all too easy for Frances Curran to blame decisions made in London. Yes, those decisions were made under the control and direction of London, but they were made in Scotland and we should be big enough and honest enough to reflect on that fact as we move on.

I will quote Tony Blair, as Susan Deacon did, with approval. He said:

"Nothing is more important in raising the standard of public services than the quality of ... leadership ... So they need to be ... subject to full accountability and delivering high standards".

He continued:

"Effective pursuit of excellence does mean a tough line on failure".

However, that speech was not all that recent. It was made on 25 January 2002 in Newcastle. We have to stop talking; we have to start achieving.

Accountability is one of the key matters that we should focus on. In my professional career, I managed a number of projects. For one of the first big ones, I went to the board of the Bank of Scotland to get £22 million for a project. It was not as big as the Holyrood project—it was a 20th of the size. There was a telling exchange at the end of the board's examination of my project proposal. Bruce Patullo, who was then the guy who signed the bank-notes, asked me a simple question. He said: "Stewart, can you make this work?" I had to give him a one-word answer—"Yes." That meant that it did not matter what happened to the project, what difficulties were encountered, which people who did not work for me and who were outwith my responsibility had to be persuaded, bullied, cajoled to make that project work, the responsibility was mine. I was the one who lay awake and sweated at night with worry when we hit project difficulties. All projects hit difficulties, even small ones.

One of the compelling points that arises from the Fraser report is that there was no clear sense of accountability such as that which I had placed on me on that occasion at the bank and on many other occasions and which many other people have experienced in the private sector.

I say to Wendy Alexander that she should not imagine that bringing private sector people into the civil service will magically solve the problem. The private sector has as many problems with projects as the public sector and I suggest that it has even more—it is just that we dinnae hear about them because there is not the same requirement for openness and accountability.

The Holyrood project was established before any of us were elected. It would be almost charitable to say that the project was spawned in secrecy with a degree of amateurism. It continued in concealment and it was completed in organisational and financial disarray. If we learn anything from the experience, it should be that what starts as a shambles ends as a shambles.

Let us consider some of the evidence from the Fraser inquiry, as Susan Deacon invited us to do. The basis on which the project advanced was given by Mrs Doig in paragraph 43 of the transcript from 4 December 2003; she said that it was "Treasury guidance". So that is where the project started. I am perfectly prepared to concede that that might have been best practice at the time, but we have to move on because the explanation was clearly inadequate. In paragraph 254 of the transcript, Mr Campbell asked:

"what was driving the project, was it time, was it budget, or was it quality?"

That is interesting coming from a Queen's counsel because a project manager knows that three aspects are at the core of a project—time, cost and what one delivers. They are immutably linked at one point in time. If we change anything in one of those parameters, we affect another. In paragraph 264 of the transcript, Mrs Doig made it clear that although

"information is inadequate to produce a valid cost plan all the indications are that the budget of £50m will be exceeded by a significant amount".

Of course, the budget was £50 million for a long time, but the projected costs were entirely different.

The warning signs were writ very large for anyone with any real experience of projects. For example, in paragraph 333 of the transcript, Lord Fraser mentions that when "two months" had gone in the project there was "four weeks' delay". In paragraph 363, Mr Campbell points out that there was a delay of eight weeks after 22 weeks. Bluntly, the project started late and it was inevitable that it was going to end late. As Fred P Brooks, a professor of engineering in the United States, says, "'Take no small slips". He poses the question, "How do projects get late?", the answer to which is "One day at a time". The reality is that we never can make that time up.

I direct members to a book by the chief executive of Intel Corporation, a company that has gone through many transitions in its competitive and technological world. The title of his book—"Only the Paranoid Survive"—is a perfect lesson for us. This project was characterised by optimism when pessimism was required. Paranoia is what we need on these kinds of projects. We need to think the worst and prepare for the best.


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