£26bn of botched IT good for consultants, says The Independent

An investigation into Labour’s botched IT-based projects and programmes by The Independent is the subject of the newspaper’s lead article today.

It says that a series of botched IT projects has left “taxpayers with a bill of more than £26bn for computer systems that have suffered severe delays, run millions of pounds over budget or have been cancelled altogether”.

The newspaper quotes me as saying that Labour had displayed an irrational exuberance on some IT projects, which has led to good money being thrown after bad. Labour’s hierarchy has regarded IT as a talisman when there’s nothing magical about it.

The Independent said that the total cost of Labour’s 10 most notorious IT failures is “equivalent to more than half of the budget for Britain’s schools last year”.

BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme drew attention to The Independent’s investigation.

The newspaper says in an editorial that when historians come to compile their tomes on this present government’s domestic record, one achievement will stand out: services to the IT sector.


“All this spending has been wonderful for IT consultants. The trouble is that the public, who as taxpayers have been funding for it, have been considerably less well served.

“From the malfunctioning passports system to the unwieldy NHS supercomputer, ministers have been responsible for presiding over one expensive IT disaster after another.

“The words ‘T’ are commonly associated with modernity, progress and efficiency. And this is no doubt why ministers and civil servants so readily and unquestioningly commissioned such lavish projects. Yet what they have evidently been buying all these years is not any of these things but good old-fashioned snake oil,” says The Independent’s editorial.

The projects named by the newspaper include the £12.7bn NPfIT NHS IT scheme, a £350m IT-based Single Payment Scheme for farmers, the £513m “C-Nomis” system for prisons and the probation service, the £447m Libra scheme for magistrates’ courts. The Independent also quotes the £5bn ID Cards scheme.

In a separate article on the NPfIT, the newspaper says that doctors’ illegible notes will be in use for years.

“For the past 30 years the NHS has been trying to modernise itscommunications and update its computer systems and each time it hasended in disaster and cost millions.

“The latest attempt, a £12.7bnproject to link the country’s 35,000 GPs with 300 hospitals and provideelectronic versions of all patient medical records, has been similarlyblighted by delays, cost overruns and cancelled contracts.

“Tony Blair, then prime minister, declared in 1997 that the electronicrecord would mean that if you live in Birmingham and have an accidentwhile you are, for example, in Bradford, it should be possible for yourrecords to be instantly available to the doctors treating you.

“Theplan nearly foundered because of fears about confidentiality. TheBritish Medical Association insisted patients must give explicitconsent to having their records posted online. That dispute wasresolved when it was agreed patients would be asked at eachconsultation if the clinician could look at their record.

“But the programme has since been beset by technical difficulties withconnecting so many disparate users. The NHS is the largest employer inEurope, dealing with millions of patients each day and poses one of thetoughest IT challenges in the world.

“The original aim was for the systems to be complete by 2010. Smallerinstallations have gone reasonably well but the major city hospitalshave proved too big a nut to crack. Today’s figures revealing just 160organisations operating the electronic record – most of them GPpractices – shows just how far there is still to go. That well-thumbedpacket of barely legible doctors’ notes will be with us for years yet.”

Links:

Labour’s computer blunders cost £26bn – The Independent

Is the NPfIT running out of money? – IT Projects Blog

Doctors’ illegible notes will be with us for years – The Independent

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