Another example of IT anarchy within government?

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Some reports of the Public Accounts Committee (which are drafted by the National Audit Office] highlight goings-on within the machinery of government that make one wonder whether some public and civil servants have relinquished any interest in buying IT and have handed the job to their IT suppliers.

"Give us what you think we need, then send us the invoice" seems to be the approach at times.

Perhaps this helps to explain why the Equality and Human Rights Commission could not explain to public accounts MPs why it disposed of IT inherited when it was formed, and spent £9.3m on new systems.

A report of the Public Accounts Committee says that the Commission spent £9.3m buying new equipment, such as computer terminals, "even though it inherited equipment from the Legacy Commissions".

The report adds

"The Commission wrote off assets inherited from the Legacy Commissions at a cost of £1.4m. The Commission could not explain why it chose not to use the equipment it inherited from the Legacy Commissions."

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Was the Commission completely unsupervised by government?

Another part of the PAC report highlights practices that suggest the Commission went unsupervised by any part of government.

A  Gateway Review by the Office of Government Commerce found that the Commission was not ready to open for business because it didn't have enough senior staff, a transition strategy, a business strategy, an organisation design or job descriptions. It opened anyway.

The PAC report says:

"Mistakes were made by the then sponsor department (the Department for Communities
and Local Government), the Legacy Commissions and the Commission's transition team
in the handling of an early exit scheme which was offered to employees of the Legacy
Commissions.

"The Commission had no control over which staff transferred to it or who left under the scheme, leaving it 140 people short and with skills gaps in key areas.

"Some of these gaps were filled by bringing back former employees of the Commission for Racial Equality as consultants, even though they had all received severance payments through the early exit scheme.

"The Commission failed to follow the correct process and did not obtain approval from the Treasury before entering into these arrangements.

"The Treasury did not grant approval retrospectively on the grounds that the Commission could not prove that these re-engagements gave good value for money. This expenditure was therefore deemed irregular and the Comptroller and Auditor General issued a qualified opinion on the Commission's 2006-08 accounts.

"Weaknesses in the Commission's controls have continued beyond the period covered by
the Comptroller and Auditor General's (C&AG) report ..."

With grim understatement, the report adds:

"This is not the way that this Committee expects public bodies to be run."

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So what's to stop the same thing happening again when government grows a new arm? Nothing it seems, except the retrospective vigilance of the NAO and the PAC.

Links:

Public Accounts Committee on the Commission - Parliamentary website

Failed £234m C-Nomis project - ministers not told the whole truth - IT Projects Blog

The NAO's most serious criticism of any Govt IT Project? - IT Projects Blog

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1 Comment

  • Tony
    The fact that UK Government IT is a disaster area is not in doubt. The recent File on 4
    02/03/2010 program and your contribution was chilling and frankly at national scandal level.

    The question is why? After some 8 years of trying to get Government to listen to our new message - see www.procession.com I believe I understand it is systemic that Government have become the dumb buyer.

    OGC used to have a research unit but under a cost saving exercise it was shut down. I happened to visit then in Norwich in 2002 as it was closing and in some frustration at OGC we were referred to the then e-envoy office as they no longer could look at new technologies. The then new e-envoy’s office and now the CIO’s office showed no interest in something new and certainly had no capacity to investigate then or now.

    It was suggested since then on a number of occasions that we work with the Catalist suppliers but again they had no mechanism in place to look at innovation and why should they?

    In the past 2 years I intensified my efforts with both suppliers and various Government departments that support innovation with little success. Accessing the CIOs in government operational departments is virtually impossible as they are protected by gatekeepers to block such cold calls and fail to reply.

    Plenty of sympathy to the problem but no one taking responsibility. What I have discovered as fact confirmed in writing is
    1. Government have had no recognised mechanism to adopt innovative cost saving technologies in their contracts
    2. Government have no central resource tasked to understand software application development
    3. Government official line is that they leave it to the prime contractors to adopt best value for money for the tax payer. Yes they really believe that?

    So there you have it. One big error of judgement in 2002 by the Treasury left UK plc exposed to being exploited as the dumb buyer and your comment "Give us what you think we need, then send us the invoice" is where we are and must quickly address.

    This IT scandal is a good second place to the Financial Market regulation failings and deserves to be part of the election debate.

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