State IT schemes revealed - can these be cut?

The UK's political leaders Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have said they want to cut public sector spending - but how many of the government's big IT projects, which Computer Weekly lists today, can really be cut?

The UK's political leaders Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have said they want to cut public sector spending - but how many of the government's big IT projects, which Computer Weekly lists today, can really be cut?

London's mayor Boris Johnson referred, in a column in the Daily Telegraph this week, to a cascade of bad law from Whitehall and Brussels which has created "non-jobs" in IT and elsewhere where people are "happily filling their days in meetings and PowerPoint presentations".

But though the public government spends about £14bn a year on IT, much of it is contractually committed, the biggest IT projects having been contracted out.

Billions are being spent on projects and programmes to modernise departments that provide front-line services: HM Revenue and Customs and the Department of Work and Pensions keep electronic accounts on almost everyone living in the UK.

The DWP, which has one of the largest IT estates in Europe, has £2.4bn worth of IT-enabled change programmes. They include a £178m project to provide a Central Payments System to make the department less dependent on potentially unreliable legacy systems and cut fraud. It is the DWP's third attempt at introducing a central payments system.

A separate DWP project, the £598m Pensions Transformation Programme, is aimed at simplifying pension payments and processes, and cutting time spent on training staff. It should also mean that pensioners who claim more than one benefit can give their details once only.

The Department also has plans to hold a series of competitions - worth potentially billions of pounds - to replace service contracts held by EDS and BT and which are due to expire in 2010 and 2011. These include the support and replacement of up to 140,000 desktop systems.

HM Revenue and Customs has embarked on an "MPPC" (Modernising PAYE Processes for Customers) project - which it has been planning for several years - to bring together scattered information on more than 25 million PAYE employees. The programme should help ensure that employees are paying the right amount of tax.

Separately HMRC is working on a Tax Credits Transformation Programme to cut mistakes and particularly to reduce under and over-payments.

The Ministry of Defence has a project, the Defence Information Infrastructure, which is worth up to £7bn, to install standardised Windows-based secure systems within the three armed services.

Most of the £7bn has not yet been spent. But if successful, the project could save more than it costs because it would replace about 300 costly legacy systems and software.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office "Future Firecrest" project to support a next-generation desktop and support service is due for completion by February 2012 and has a budget of £401m.

It is being designed to help provide more mobile, rapid-response systems, and video-conferencing so that global teams can work together regardless of location.

These are the pick of the government's biggest or "mission-critical" IT-enabled projects and programmes:

1) Cabinet Office - SCOPE Programme - sharing intelligence information across 10 Departments. The main beneficiary is the Foreign and Commonwealth office. Phase 2 has been shelved. It was to extend the reach of SCOPE to intelligence staffs around the world.

The SCOPE programme team is based in a part of the Cabinet Office which is at the heart of the government's intelligence machinery. The cost is classified.

2) Cabinet Office - Information Assurance Technical Programme. A cross-government programme in which CESG, the commercial IT security arm of GCHQ, leads on delivery as the main supplier and interface with the information assurance industry.

3) Department for Children, Schools and Families - ContactPoint database.

4) Department for Culture, Media and Sport - IT support for the Olympics and Paralympics Games and Legacy Delivery programme.

5) Department of Health - National Programme for IT, including the Care Records Service, Choose and Book and e-prescriptions. Estimated cost: £12.7bn.

6) Department for Transport - IT support for Crossrail

7) Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) - £178m Central Payments System to bring together benefits information from a number of legacy systems and cut fraud.

8) DWP - £598 Pensions Transformation Programme reduces complexity, cuts time for staff training and stops pensioners who claim several benefits giving their details repeatedly.

9) DWP Change Programme - £246m

10) DWP - Contracts worth billions of pounds for communications and the support of up to 140,000 desktop and laptops are due to be awarded over the next six years.

11) Foreign and Commonwealth Office - £401m Future Firecrest system

12) HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) - MPPC programme to bring together PAYE systems and information on more than 25 million taxpayers.

13) HMRC: Tax Credits Transformation programme to reduce error and fraud.

14) Home Office - the Vetting and Barring Scheme (also involves Department of Health, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Criminal Records Bureau and Independent Safeguarding Authority).

15) Home Office National Policing Improvement Agency - "Impact" police-based programme for intelligence sharing. The project includes a Police National Database.

16) Home Office: e-borders, due to be fully operational in 2014

17) Home Office £234m National Offender Management Information System - rollout of IT to all prisons.

18) Identity and Passport Service - ID Cards, including National Identity Register. Cost of about £5bn over 10 years but most of the cost is tied in with biometric passports which, in practice, cannot be scrapped.

19) Ministry of Defence (MoD) - Defence Information Infrastructure - £2bn-£3bn contractually committed so far but total costs estimated at about £7bn.

20) MoD - whole fleet management

21) MoD - Bowman

This article is based on information on the government's mission-critical projects provided by the Office of government Commerce in reply to a question by Public Accounts Committee MP Richard Bacon.

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