PFI fiasco delivers overpriced and inadequate IT systems

Private finance initiative: Tony Collins reports on the expensive debacle that is justice IT

Private finance initiative: Tony Collins reports on the expensive debacle that is justice IT

A trailblazing Private Finance Initiative (PFI) project has delivered new court buildings where IT equipment has cost several times the normal price, and legal advisers have had to share one PC because of inadequate wiring.

The debacle over the provision of new magistrates buildings in Worcester and Kidderminster - financed as part of a government pathfinder project to provide a template for other courts to be built under PFI - compounds the failure of a separate PFI computer contract - Libra - to deliver a national caseworking and administration system for hundreds of magistrates courts in England and Wales.

Nick Jones, justices' chief executive at the West Mercia Magistrates Courts Service, said that substantial sums have been spent unnecessarily with PFI contractors.

Double networking data sockets that can be bought for about £120 were charged at about £550 each when installed by PFI suppliers.

Acting on specifications supplied by the Lord Chancellor's Department, the contractor for the buildings, Rentokil, installed fibre-optic data cabling and wiring for PCs that proved inadequate.

At Kidderminster court, legal advisers have had to share a PC because insufficient room was allowed for data cables in certain areas. Only two power points per workstation were installed when up to six were needed. A second PFI contractor, Fujitsu, is installing new cabling and power points under a separate contract.

The problems show that the risk of failure rests with the taxpayer and not the supplier, contradicting government claims that PFI passes the risk of failure to contractors.

Rosie Eagleson, general secretary of the Association of Magisterial Officers, said the Libra contract was a scandal and highlighted the flaws in relying on PFI to fund complex IT projects.

Fujitsu said it installed additional cabling at the new magistrates court in West Mercia because when it surveyed the buildings "it was clear that extra cabling and power points would be required to bring the building up to Libra standards".

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said cabling and power points in the PFI-funded courts were specified before the full Libra contract requirement was known. Rentokil said it had met all the contract specifications.

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