Lib-Dems condemn magistrates IT deal

The Liberal Democrats have condemned a £319m Private Finance Initiative (PFI) project which allows the supplier ICL to receive...

The Liberal Democrats have condemned a £319m Private Finance Initiative (PFI) project which allows the supplier ICL to receive large payments before it has delivered the core application.

Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat shadow chancellor, said the payments to ICL on the Libra project to install new systems in magistrates' courts contradicted one of the stated aims of PFI - that of transferring the main risk of failure to the supplier.

"The Government claims that when private sector contractors don't deliver they will not be paid, yet in this case ICL are paid despite a failure to deliver [the core application]," said Taylor.

Under the terms of the Libra project ICL receives the bulk of the payments for delivery of new PCs and Microsoft Office. The core caseworking application - the main reason for commissioning the system - represents less than half of the value of the contract.

The Libra deal was signed by the Lord Chancellor's Department and ICL in 1998 and revised substantially in 2000. Its primary aim is to replace three incompatible systems throughout England and Wales with a single core case management system.

Although the case management system was due to start rolling out last month, the department has announced internally that its implementation has been delayed for at least 15 to 18 months.

Court workers will now have two desktop computers - one to run Office and one to access the old case-management system.

The new PCs are arriving early because of a new PFI contract negotiated last year which increased ICL's payment by 75% and extended the contract by four years.

Courts staff said the benefits of office automation are useful but are outweighed by the disadvantage of having two PCs per desk.

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