Bright people at IT suppliers treat ministers as playthings

“Whoever wins I hope will take a scythe through all these precious IT systems” – Edward Leigh, outgoing chairman of the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee .

Conservative Edward Leigh will be standing down as chairman of the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee. Tradition has it that the committee has an opposition chairman. Even if Labour wins the election, the committee is likely to appoint a new chairman.

edward leigh.jpg

Interviewed by BBC R4’s File on 4, Leigh summed up what he has learned about IT-based projects and programmes during his years as chairman of the committee.

“[When] politicians come up with these ideas they want everything to be done immediately.

“They’re very short-termist. They want to create a quickimpact …[and] are very naive about IT systems and the cost of ITstaff, so they’re taken for a ride by very bright people who earn verylarge salaries in the private sector running these companies.

“Ministers come they go and they add onto these things like a Christmastree. You need one  simple – piloted – [system] … you stick to it.Rough-justice politicians just keep changing their minds – constantlynew ideas – and of course they are just playthings for the privatesector.

“We the taxpayer are paying enormous sums to people for these ITprojects, to run them for us, and to waste money for us. So I thinkonce a general election is over whoever wins I hope will take a scythethrough all these precious IT systems.”


A terrible price for the government’s love of complexity? – IT Projects Blog

Tories call for Labour to halt the signing of big IT contracts – IT Projects Blog

Another example of anarchy within parts of Government? – IT Projects Blog

Labour’s scramble to launch £11bn spree on contracts – The Independent

Labour’s dying spending spree – Torypolitico

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I have developed a lot of respect for Edward Leigh in his role of chairman of the PAC. I have certainly welcomed his more recent comments on poorly implemented Government IT projects ( which will always both amuse and enrage the lowly taxpayer at the same time. I’m not a card-carrying Conservative by any means but I am a strong believer in retaining people with the right levels of experience and expertise and so I do hope any future Government can find a suitable role for him.

I agree. IEEE Spectrum once put together some of Edward Leigh's colourful comments on various IT-based projects and programmes:

"... a master class in bad decision-making, poor planning, incomplete testing of IT controls, confused lines of responsibility, scant objective management information and a failure by the management team to face up to the unfolding crisis."


The MoD's Chinook helicopter programme:

"one of the most incompetent procurements of all time."


The Home Office's National Offender Management Information System (C-NOMIS) project:

A "spectacular failure" and "a master class in sloppy project management."


The Defra and Rural Payments Agency's Single Payment Scheme:

A "test case in maladministration" managed by government officials with "scant regard to protecting public money". [the latter is an NAO phrase]

IEEE Spectrum said:

"What descriptions can Chairman Leigh use to characterize future UK government IT project failures that are extra-ordinary?"

I'd reply to this that, sadly, that there's nothing about large government IT failures that is extra-ordinary.