Haringey looks for answers on Tech Refresh

Councillors in Haringey want to discover why costs on the Tech Refresh IT project more than doubled to £24.6m without the full council being told in time to curb the overspending.

Councillors in Haringey want to discover why costs on the Tech Refresh IT project more than doubled to £24.6m without the full council being told in time to curb the overspending.

They will now raise dozens of questions on Tech Refresh at an extraordinary meeting of the Oversight and Scrutiny Committee, due to be held tonight (28 February).

Not all councillors were notified of the project's escalating costs and lack of controls as the project progressed. Some now say they would have expected the council's main internal auditor, Deloitte and Touche, or the external auditor, the Audit Commission, or both, to provide an early warning of the project's rising costs.

Councillors want to know if the auditors had provided warnings, which were not published by the council, or whether no warnings were given by either the council or the auditors, and if so, why not. 

Information only became generally available after the cost of the scheme rose from £9m to £24.6m. Although suppliers on the Tech Refresh project have absorbed £5.5m of the overspending, the council has still been left with a bill of £19.1m.

Deloitte and Touche's consultancy arm was involved in the overspent project.

In a report published last month the Audit Commission said the council "cannot demonstrate that the full additional £10m costs represent value for money".

It identified "significant failures" in the running of the project and said the project continues to represent a "significant risk" for the council.

Tech Refresh began in June 2003 to replace the council's IT infrastructure with "thin client" systems in which the applications reside on servers, not on PCs.

Haringey wanted to give staff access to the web and mobile computing. It also wanted to share information with the NHS and police, and cut IT costs.

One concern is that if there is no pressure on auditors to issue an early alert on IT projects that may be running out of control, elected representatives such as councillors will be unable to take action to curb overspending. At Haringey the full council learnt about lack of controls and poor record keeping on the project only after the costs had doubled.

Last week Computer Weekly's articles on the project were mentioned at a full council meeting. One of the ruling Labour councillors said Tech Refresh represented "a problem, not a pattern."

A spokesman for Haringey said the council's executive committee has approved an action plan - which it has published - in response to the Audit Commission's report.

"We have been open from the start, reporting to committee and answering questions from councillors in detail on a number of occasions.

"The additional spending was dealt with in outturn reports on the 2004/2005 accounts, published in June 2005, and was covered by earmarked reserves in that financial year," he said.

"The Audit Commission report on this programme was not an audit. It was a review report commissioned by the council to learn lessons, and its recommendations have been accepted in full."

Haringey said Tech Refresh was virtually complete, and was providing staff with the systems they need to deliver more efficient services.

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