Student Loans: the wrong resignations?

The ICT director at the Student Loans Company, Wallace Gray, and a senior marketing and customer services official, Martin Herbert, have quit after a critical report into delays of grants and loans.

But the Company’s chief executive Ralph Seymour-Jackson, who faced calls to resign in the wake of the fiasco, will remain in post.

Earlier this month, Computer Weekly reported that the IT which sparked the chaos may still be faulty.

This is the Student Loans Company’s statement in full:

“Following the publication of the report commissioned jointly by theStudent Loans Company and the Department for Business, Innovation andSkills by Professor Sir Deian Hopkin into the lessons to be learnedfrom the processing of applications for student support in England,John Goodfellow, chair of the Board of the Student Loans Company said:

“Having fully accepted all of the recommendations of the review, theBoard is taking immediate and decisive action to strengthen andrestructure the senior management team in order to press ahead with theimplementation of the recommendations.

“We have accepted the resignations of Wallace Gray, the ICT directorand Martin Herbert, the Marketing and Customer Services Director, whohave now left the company. 

“Alongside recruiting replacements for these roles, we will bestrengthening the senior management team by appointing a ChiefOperating Officer – reporting to the Chief Executive – who will beresponsible for service delivery and risk management across all theservices SLC provides for the UK Government Administrations and the HEsector.

“We will also appoint a Director of Human Resources to ensure we havethe Organisational Development expertise needed to drive through thechange in culture highlighted in the review to ensure the customerexperience is firmly at the heart of the organization. These positionswill be advertised in the coming weeks and the recruitment process willbegin in the New Year.

“Derek Ross will take up a new role as Managing Director of the StudentFinance England service, reporting to the new Chief Operating Officer. 

“Achieving the full vision for Student Finance England service wasalways supposed to be a three-year process and it is clear that thereare significant lessons to be learned from the first year ofoperation. 

“We are determined to do whatever it takes to ensureprocessing and payments are faster next year, so that we can deliverthe service that students and their parents have every right to expect.

“We also need to work more closely with our colleagues in the HigherEducation sector and with customer representatives and are pleased thatthe Minister of State announced a new Student Finance EnglandStakeholder Forum, which includes representatives from the NationalUnion of Students, Higher Education Institutions and UCAS.

“We are pleased that these organisations have welcomed the opportunityfor closer working and improved communications.  We hope that the Forumpartners will be able to share with us their knowledge of how SFE isoperating and quickly identify any areas where performance is not as itshould be – as well as sharing ideas about service improvements.

“We would like to say sorry again to those customers who have been so let down by us over the last few months.”

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This is the Student Loans Company’s profile of Wallace Gray – Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Director:

“Wallace Gray has been Director of ICT since October, 2001, and isresponsible for Systems Development, Project Management and TechnicalInfrastructure Architecture. Before joining SLC, he was the IT Directorfor the Scottish Legal Aid Board where he worked for five years.

“During his 25 years as a computer professional, he has held positionsin Standard Life, Britannia Life and Robert Flemings Merchant Bank. Hehas three Master degrees in Business Administration (MBA), HumanResource Management and E-Business as well as a BSc in Computing.

“He is currently studying towards a Doctor of Education (EdD) atStrathclyde University. He is a member of the Association of ProjectManagers and is one of a select number of UK Project Managers to beawarded a Certified Project Manager title by the IAPM.” 

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Comment:

On the rare occasions anyone in the public sector quits over an IT-related failure, it’s invariably the wrong person. The problems at the Student Loans Company that are highlighted by the “Hopkin” report are systemic.

True, bad news about the problems with scanning technology did not pass up the chain of command, but was that because, in a “can-do” culture, ministers did not want to hear bad news, and so did not properly challenge the unduly positive information they were being given?

After the failure of the IT-based Single Payment Scheme at the Rural Payments Agency, it emerged that news of serious problems had not reached ministers early enough for them to take remedial actions.

Parliamentary hearings into the Single Payment Scheme established that there was a “conspiracy of optimism“. Ministers had not challenged with enough force the positive information they were being given. 

If, when you buy a used car, you accept everything the seller says and don’t challenge the information, who’s at fault if you buy a disguised wreck?

It’s odd that ministers and the Chief Executive at the Student Loans Company are taking no blame.

IT that sparked Student Loans chaos may still be faulty – ComputerWeekly.com

Labour’s unlucky 13 IT projects – IT Projects blog

The risks of over-optimism – ComputerWeekly.com

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