Government IT watchdog rapped by MPs over farm payments

A committee of MPs has criticised the quality of advice given by the Office of Government Commerce during the single farm payment fiasco.

A committee of MPs has criticised the quality of advice given by the Office of Government Commerce during the single farm payment fiasco.

By February last year, the government had missed the deadline to allocate about £1.5bn in farm payments, partly because of a struggling IT project.

A report by Parliament's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said, “The government does not seem to be learning the lessons of previous failures. There is a need for greater expertise within government in the delivery of such complex and important projects. The debacle also calls into question the quality of the advice from the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) to the department and the Rural Payment Agency.”

The OGC was created to improve the government’s track record on failed IT projects.

However, the committee said the OGC needed to “review its procedures and warning assessment systems which allowed a project to reach a rating of probability of success of only 40%, seemingly without effective preventative action being taken.

“Given the high importance of successful implementation of the SPS scheme to the reputation of the department and the RPA, let alone to the claimants, we find it extraordinary that Defra seemed prepared merely to aim to keep the probability of success above 50% just eight months before payments were due to begin.”

According the MPs' report, the OGC ‘Readiness for service’ gateway review in February gave the programme an ‘amber’ rating and congratulated the RPA on its “great achievement” in starting payments during that month. The OGC study prepared in February predicted that payments would be made by the end of March, and congratulated the RPA for its “sterling efforts” towards this “momentous achievement”, the report says.

The single payment system was contracted to Accenture in 2003.

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