Secrecy is one reason gov’t IT-based projects fail says MP

By Tony Collins

The BBC, in an article on its website about Fujitsu’s legal dispute with the Department of Health, quotes Richard Bacon MP who, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, has asked countless civil servants about why their department’s IT-based change projects have not met expectations.

Bacon is co-author of a book on government failures, Conundrum, which has a chapter on the National Programme for IT [NPfIT] in the NHS.

In the BBC article Bacon is quoted as saying that the culture of secrecy surrounding IT-based projects is one of the main reasons they keep going so badly – and expensively – wrong.

He says it has been obvious to experts from an early stage that the NPfIT, which was launched by Tony Blair’s government, would be a “train wreck” because the contracts were signed “in an enormous hurry” and contained confidentiality clauses preventing contractors from speaking to the press.

He says the urge to cover things up means that “we never learn from our mistakes because there is learning curve, but when things go wrong with IT the response is to keep it quiet”.

Citing the example of air accident investigations, which are normally conducted in a spirit of openness so lessons can be learned, he says “It is the complete opposite in IT projects, where everyone keeps their heads down and goes hugger-mugger.”

Fujitsu versus Department of Health

Fujitsu sued the Department of Health for £700m after the company was ejected six years early [2008] from a 10-year £896m NPfIT contract signed in January 2004.  The case went to arbitration – and is still in arbitration, largely over the amount the government may be ordered to pay Fujitsu.  Bacon says the amount of the settlement will have to be disclosed.

“I don’t know how the government can honestly keep this number quiet. It simply cannot do it. It is not possible or sensible to keep it quiet when you are spending this much money,” says Bacon.

The BBC article quotes excerpts from a Campaign4Change blog

Government ‘loses £700m NHS IT dispute with Fujitsu’ – BBC News

 

Has Fujitsu won £700m NHS legal dispute?

By Tony Collins

The Telegraph reports unconfirmed rumours that Fujitsu has thrown a party at the Savoy to celebrate the successful end of its long-running dispute with the NHS over a failed £896m NPfIT contract.

Government officials are being coy about the settlement which implies that Fujitsu has indeed won its legal dispute with the Department of Health, at a potential cost to taxpayers of hundreds of millions of pounds.

Fujitsu sued the DH for £700m after it was ejected from its NPfIT contract to deliver the Cerner Millennium system to NHS trusts in the south of England.

At one point a former ambassador to Japan was said to have been involved in trying to broker an out-of-court settlement with Fujitsu at UK and global level.

But the final cost of the settlement is much higher than any figure agreed, for the Department of Health paid tens, possibly hundreds of millions of pounds, more than market prices for BT to take over from Fujitsu support for NHS trusts in the south of England. The DH paid BT £546m to take over from Fujitsu which triggered a minor Parliamentary inquiry.

A case that couldn’t go to court?

The FT reported in 2011 that Fujitsu and the Department of Health had been unable to resolve their dispute in arbitration and a court case was “almost inevitable”.

But the FT article did not take account of the fact that major government departments do not take large IT suppliers to an open courtroom. Though there have been many legal disputes between IT suppliers and Whitehall they have only once reached an open courtroom [HP versus National Air Traffic Services] – and the case collapsed hours before a senior civil servant was due to take the witness stand.

Nightmare for taxpayers

Now the Telegraph says:

“Unconfirmed reports circulating in the industry suggest that a long-running dispute over the Japan-based Fujitsu’s claim against the NHS for the cancellation of an £896 million contract has finally been settled – in favour of Fujitsu.”

It adds:

“Both Fujitsu and the Cabinet Office, which took over negotiations on the contract from the Department of Health, are refusing to comment. The case went to arbitration after the two sides failed to reach agreement on Fujitsu’s claim for £700 million compensation. Such a pay-out would be the biggest in the 60-year history of the NHS – and a nightmare for taxpayers.”

The government’s legal costs alone were £31.45m by the end of 2012 in the Fujitsu case.

Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, is likely to be aware that his officials will face Parliamentary criticisms for keeping quiet about the settlement. The Cabinet Office is supposed to be the home of open government.

Earlier this week the National Audit Office reported that Capgemini and Fujitsu are due to collect a combined profit of about £1.2bn from the “Aspire” outsourcing contract with HM Revenue and Customs.

Richard Bacon, a Conservative member of the Public Accounts Committee is quoted in the Telegraph as saying the settlement with Fujitsu has implications across the public sector. “It should be plain to anyone that we are witnessing systemic failure in the government’s ability to contract.”

What went wrong?

The Department of Health and Fujitsu signed a deal in January 2004 in good faith, but before either side had a clear idea of how difficult it would be to install arguably over-specified systems in hospitals where staff had little time to meet the demands of new technology.

Both sides later tried to renegotiate the contract but talks failed.

In 2008 Fujitsu Services withdrew from the talks because the terms set down by the health service were unaffordable, a director disclosed to MPs.

Fujitsu’s withdrawal prompted the Department of Health to terminate the company’s contract under the NHS’s National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

Fujitsu’s direct losses on the contract at that time – which was in part for the supply and installation of the Cerner “Millennium” system – were understood to be about £340m.

At a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee into the NPfIT,  Peter Hutchinson, Fujitsu’s then group director for UK public services, said that his company had been willing to continue with its original NPfIT contract – even when talks over the contract “re-set” had failed.

“We withdrew from the re-set negotiations. We were still perfectly willing and able to deliver to the original contract,” he said.

Asked by committee MP Richard Bacon why Fujitsu had withdrawn Hutchinson said, “We had tried for a very long period of time to re-set the contract to match what everybody agreed was what the NHS really needed in terms of the contractual format.

“In the end the terms the NHS were willing to agree to we could not have afforded. Whilst we have been very committed to this programme and have put a lot of our time, energy and money behind it we have other stakeholders we have to worry about including our shareholders, our pension funds, our pensioners and the staff who work in the company. There was a limit beyond which we could not go.”

The termination of Fujitsu’s contract left the NHS with a “gaping hole,” said the then chairman of the Public Accounts Committee Edward Leigh.

Thank you to campaigner Dave Orr for drawing my attention to the Telegraph article.

Comment 

In an era on open government it is probably not right for officials and ministers at the Cabinet Office and the Department of Heath to be allowed to secretly plunge their hands into public coffers to pay Fujitsu for a massive failure that officialdom is too embarrassed to talk about.

Why did the DH in 2008 end Fujitsu’s contract rather than renegotiate its own unrealistic gold-plated contract specifications? Should those who ended the contract be held accountable today for the settlement?

The answer is nobody is accountable in part because the terms of the dispute aren’t known. Nobody knows each side’s arguments. Nobody even knows for certain who has won and who has lost. Possibly the government has paid out hundreds of millions of pounds to Fujitsu on the quiet, for no benefit to taxpayers.

Is this in the spirit of government of the people, by the people, for the people?

Capgemini and Fujitsu pocket “incredible” £1.2bn profits from HMRC

By Tony Collins

In an outsourcing deal of then unprecedented size Inland Revenue contracted out about 2000 IT staff and services to EDS – now HP – in 1994.

The deal was worth about £1bn over 10 years. Later Inland Revenue joined with Customs & Excise and became HM Revenue and Customs. As part of the merger HP took over Customs’ IT which was largely run by Fujitsu. The £1bn outsourcing contract with HP turned into a £2bn deal.

In 2004 the merged contracts were called “Aspire” and Capgemini took over staff and IT services from HP in a 10-year deal expected to be worth between £3bn and £5bn.  The contract was later extended by 3 years to 2017.

Today a National Audit Office report Managing and replacing the Aspire contract says the deal is worth £10.4bn to Capgemini and Fujitsu.

Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, says of the NAO report on the Aspire contract:

“HMRC’s management of Aspire, its most important contract which provides 650 IT systems to help HMRC to collect tax, has been unacceptably poor.

“While it may have secured a good level of IT service in the end, by the time the contract ends in 2017 HMRC will have spent £10.4 billion – more than double what it initially expected to spend.

“What’s worse, it has spent £5 billion of this total without first checking whether other providers could deliver a better deal, even though it had evidence that it was paying above market prices.

“It is deeply depressing that once again a government contract has proved better value for the private companies involved than for the taxpayer, with Capgemini and Fujitsu pocketing an incredible £1.2 billion in combined profits – more than twice the profit HMRC expected.

“Its own lack of capability meant HMRC was over-reliant on providers’ technical expertise, undermining its ability to act as an intelligent customer on behalf of the taxpayer.

“HMRC is planning to replace the Aspire contract in 2017, but its new project is still half-baked, with no business case and no idea of the skills or resources needed to make it work. All of this gives me little confidence that HMRC’s senior team has the capability to manage large and complex contracts.”

“More changes than normal”

The NAO found that in more than 80% of projects, HMRC and Capgemini changed the agreed scope, time or budget. Says the NAO report:

“One feature of the cooperative approach between HMRC and Capgemini has been a willingness on both sides to make changes once the extensive planning is complete and budget, scope and timing has been agreed commercially.

“These changes are made through formal governance processes and usually help to educe risk. Some change is to be expected as part of good project management.

“However, we consider that HMRC and Capgemini made more changes than normal on projects after the point at which budgets, scope and timing had been commercially agreed. The degree of change makes it very difficult to hold the Aspire suppliers to account for their performance across the portfolio of projects.”

Managing and replacing the Aspire contract – NAO report

Good summary of NAO report at Computerworlduk

After two IT disasters, immigration officials launch £208m agile project

By Tony Collins

In 2001 immigration officials cancelled a £77m system with Siemens for a Casework Application system.

The objective had been to create a “paperless office”, help reduce a backlog of 66,000 asylum cases and provide a “single view” of individuals. But the scope was overambitious and the supplier underestimated the complexities. It proved difficult to automate paper-based processes.

In 2010 immigration officials came up with a similar scheme that also failed to meet expectations.  They developed a business case for a flagship IT programme called Immigration Case Work (ICW).

It was designed to draw together all casework interactions between the business and a person, enabling caseworkers to gain a single accurate view of the person applying. It was expected to replace both the legacy Casework Information Database (CID) and 20 different IT and some paper-based systems by March 2014.

A National Audit Office published today says the ICW programme was closed in
August 2013, having delivered “significantly less than planned for £347m.”

So in the end, while the taxpayer has paid hundreds of millions for caseworking systems for immigration staff, many of the workers are still, says the NAO, relying on paper.  Today’s NAO report says:

“Both directorates [UK Visas and Immigration and Immigration Enforcement, which were formerly the UK Border Agency] rely heavily on paper-based working.

“The Permanent Migration team is 100 per cent paper-based and acknowledge this as a barrier to efficiency.”

Immigration officials use some technology to record personal details of people who pass through the immigration system. But:

• A lack of controls mean staff can leave data fields blank or enter incorrect
information. The NAO found many errors in the database.
• There is a history of systems freezing and being unusable.
• A lack of interfaces with other systems results in manual data transfer or
cross‑referencing.

Agile success?

Now, says the NAO, the Home Office has begun a new agile-based programme, Immigration Platform Technologies  (IPT). It is due to cost £208.7 million by 2016-17.

A tool for online applications for some types of visa has already been rolled-out and is being updated using applicant feedback,” says the NAO.

But support contracts for the existing technology [the legacy Casework Information Database] expire in January 2016, before the scheduled completion of IPT in 2017.

The Home Office is “reviewing options for support contracts to cover this gap”.

Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, says of the agile project: “Given its poor track record, I have little confidence that the further £209 million it is spending on another IT system will be money well spent.”

Comment

Is it possible for a genuinely agile project to cost £208m? The point about agile is that it is supposed to be incremental, quick and cheap.  It looks as if the Home Office is running a hybrid conventional/agile programme, as the DWP did with Universal Credit. Either a project is agile or its not. Hybrids, it seems, are not usually successful.

There again is the Home Office congenitally capable of running an agile project?  The Agile Manifesto is based on twelve principles, most of which could be said to be alien to the Home Office’s culture:

1.Customer satisfaction by rapid delivery of useful software
2.Welcome changing requirements, even late in development
3.Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months)
4.Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
5.Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
6.Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
7.Working software is the principal measure of progress
8.Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
9.Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
10.Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
11.Self-organizing teams
12.Regular adaptation to changing circumstances

So what’s needed?

Big government IT-based change programmes tend to be introspective and secretive. Those working on them don’t always feel able to challenge, to criticise, to propose doing things differently.

What would be innovative would be openness and independent challenge, and tough and well-informed Parliamentary scrutiny. It rarely happens. Ask the Home Office for any of its progress reports on its IT-base change programmes and it’ll tell you exactly what the DWP says when asked a similar question: “That’s not something we generally release.”

The NAO report points to a culture problem. “… Having a transparent culture was rated as red on the UK Visas and Immigration risk trends in April 2014.”

Will the new agile project be any more successful than the other 2 major immigration IT projects? The Home Office will doubtless claim success as it usually does. Even when the patient dies it tells Parliament the operation was a success.  For you can say publicly whatever you like when you keep the facts confidential – as IDS at the DWP knows.

Reforming the UK border and immigration system - National Audit Office report

Publish Universal Credit and other project reports, says ex-gov’t CIO

By Tony Collins

John SuffolkJohn Suffolk, the government’s former chief information officer, says warnings that publishing Universal Credit reports will have a chilling effect are “poppycock”.

His comments were prompted by the Department for Work and Pensions’ appeals against a ruling by the first-tier information tribunal that 4 reports on the Universal Credit programme be published.

The DWP has failed in every legal move it has made to stop the reports being published but is continuing its attempts although costs for taxpayers are increasing.

The DWP and its external lawyers argue that publishing the 4 reports would have a chilling effect by inhibiting the candour and boldness of civil servants who contribute to such reports.

But Suffolk says the claims of a chilling effect are “poppycock”. Suffolk was responding to a Campaign4Change blog “DWP tries again to stop disclosure of Universal Credit reports“.  He says:

“As you know I am a great fan of publishing all of the project reports. I note all of the comments on the “chilling effect” but this is poppycock.

“There is no chilling effect and if there was it would be countered by the extra scrutiny change programmes would receive by increased transparency. We should publish everything on projects and programmes.

“Transparency is a good thing. Government does complex work and more eyes on the problem would be a help not a hindrance, accepting we all need to know ‘who is the cook and who is the food critic’.

Suffolk was government CIO for nearly 5 years between 2006 and 2011 where he helped to steer an annual IT budget of billions of pounds.  He is now Head of Cyber Security/SVP at Huawei Technologies

His comments in full:

“It is such a shame that we have reached this position. Part of the Conservative Party (not the coalition) election thrust was on openness, transparency etc.

“Indeed some work has been done on this such as publishing the finance data, a summary report on major projects, but we appear to have gone backwards on no longer publishing an annual report for ICT spend, no longer publishing benchmark data – a prime driver that can reduce costs. According to the NAO some of what is published in terms of progress, is a little, how can I phrase this suspect.

“The realism is the only time a government can introduce transparency is at the beginning of a political cycle, this should have been executed at the beginning of the coalition as it becomes almost impossible to become transparent at the beginning of a new election cycle.

“A few words about UC. Before I left Government we reviewed the outline of UC as part of Francis Maude’s project control. I have to say the Ministers were excellent.

“They fully understood the policy objectives, fully understood the likely benefits and costs, understood the challenges but rightly deferred to officials on execution – how do we get from A to B.

“The Officials were far less impressive… Since then the ICT Team and Executive at DWP have gone through substantial change, the Civil Service have gone through a period of “transition” or “turmoil”; suppliers have gone through similar experiences and here we are trying to undertake one of the largest changes to the benefits system.

“We should not be surprised if there are a few wrinkles, nor should we be surprised if things move around a bit (what doesn’t – big or small) but what we should be surprised at is that Cabinet Office doesn’t appear to be backing the programme.

“I read with some mild amusement that GDS had taken their toys home and withdrew troops from “supporting” the programme.

“Excuse me, but isn’t this a flagship Programme? Won’t this programme save billions of pounds? Won’t this programme begin to change the something-for-nothing culture to nothing-for- nothing culture (unless there are real health reasons etc)?

“So we should have robbed all of the most talented resources of less priority programmes to support this. We didn’t. We went and sulked in the corner because they wouldn’t accept our ideas – instead we go and play around with websites and mess with tactical online services rather than focussing on the things that matter.

“You could also see this manifested in the major projects report where they singled out UC in a special category. Boys boys your job is to work together not squabble like little children.

“Get the best resources on UC, accept it is complex and dates will move around, take steady small steps and prove the programme and then get your shoulders behind it to make the implementation a success.

“Without doubt the Government have made many substantial improvements but when it comes to getting big changed implemented there is a long way to go.”

Millions of pounds of secret DWP reports

Judge refuses DWP leave to appeal ruling on Universal Credit reports

DWP tries again to stop release of Universal Credit reports

By Tony Collins

The Department for Work and Pensions has requested another legal hearing in its attempt to stop four ageing reports on the Universal Credit programme being published.

The DWP’s formal application to the Upper Tribunal (below) shows that Whitehall officials and work and pensions  ministers, Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud,  are prepared to sink more public money into fighting a judge’s ruling in March 2014 that the DWP publish the four reports

It appears the DWP does not want the reports published on a point of principle: the department does not publish any reports on any of its major IT-based change programmes.

Another reason officials and ministers have for keeping the reports confidential is that they would establish what officials knew of Universal Credit programme’s serious problems in 2012 when departmental press releases were saying the scheme was on time and within budget.

The reports could show, without ambiguity, that the DWP misled Parliament in 2012 and 2013 by saying the UC programme was progressing successfully when officials knew this was not the case.

So far the the DWP’s lawyers have lost every stage of their appeals to stop disclosure of the reports. One judge noted the apparent contradiction between what’s in the hidden reports and optimistic press releases issued by the department about the UC programme.

The reports in question date back to 2011 and 2012. They are:

-  A Project Assessment Review of Universal Credit by the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority. The Review gave a high-level strategic view of the state of UC, its problems, risks and how well or badly it was being managed.

-  A Risk Register of Universal Credit. It included a description of the risk, the possible impact should it occur, the probability of its occurring, a risk score, a traffic light [Red/Green Amber] status, a summary of the planned response if a risk materialises, and a summary of the risk mitigation.

- An Issues Register for Universal Credit. It contained a short list of problems, the dates when they were identified, the mitigating steps required and the dates for review and resolution.

- A High Level Milestone Schedule for Universal Credit. It is described in the tribunal’s ruling as a “graphic record of progress, measured in milestones, some completed, some missed and others targeted in the future”.

John Slater, who has 25 years experience in IT and programme and project management, requested three of the reports in 2012 under the FOI Act. Separately I requested the Project Assessment Review, also in 2012. The Information Commissioner ruled that the DWP release three of the four reports. He said the Risk Register could stay confidential.

The DWP appealed the ruling and the case came before the first-tier information tribunal earlier this year.  The DWP sent an external legal team to Leicester for the hearing – which the DWP lost.

The tribunal ruled that the DWP publish all four reports. Lawyers for the DWP had claimed that disclosure of the four reports would inhibit the candour and boldness of civil servants who contributed to them – the so-called chilling effect.

The DWP’s lawyers sought the first-tier tribunal’s leave to appeal the ruling, describing it as “perverse”. The  lawyers said the tribunal had wholly misunderstood what was meant by a “chilling effect”, how it was manifested and how its existence could be proved.

They claimed that the first-tier tribunal’s misunderstanding of the chilling effect and its perverse decision were “errors of law”. For the first-tier tribunal’s finding to go to appeal to the “upper tribunal”, the DWP would have needed to prove “errors in law” in the findings of the first-tier tribunal.

The judge in that case, David Farrer QC, found that there were no errors in law in his ruling and he refused the DWP leave to appeal. The DWP then asked the upper tribunal to overrule Farrer’s decision – and the DWP lost again.

The judge in the upper tribunal refused permission for the DWP to appeal.

Rather than simply publish the reports – and avoid further legal costs – the DWP has now asked its lawyers to submit another request for an appeal. This time the DWP has asked for an “oral hearing” so that its lawyers can argue for permission to appeal to the upper tribunal in person, rather than on paper.

The upper tribunal has yet to decide on the DWP’s request for an oral hearing.

As long as the DWP sustains its series of appeals it does not have to publish the four reports, although legal costs from the public purse continue to rise.

The DWP’s latest letter to the upper tribunal:

8 July 2014

Dear Sirs

Department For Work And Pensions v ICO

Application to the Upper Tribunal for permission to appeal

We write further to your letter dated 25 June 2014 enclosing Upper Tribunal Judge Wikeley’s refusal of the Secretary of State’s application for permission to appeal and above three appeals.

We apply in accordance with rules 22(4) and (5) of the Tribunal Procedure (Upper Tribunal) Rules 2008 for the Department for Work and Pensions’ application for permission to appeal against the First-Tier Tribunal’s decision of 19 March 2014 (notified on 24 March 2014) in the above cases to be reconsidered at an oral hearing.

The Department for Work and Pensions contends that each of the three proposed grounds of appeal is arguable in law for the reasons set out in the grounds of appeal accompanying its application for permission to appeal, and applies for reconsideration before a judge at an oral hearing on that basis.

Yours faithfully …

Comment

The DWP is facing Parliamentary and NAO criticism over the poor state of several of its major programmes. So it is odd that its officials have the time, and can spare the public funds, to fight a long campaign to stop four old UC programme reports being published.

It shows that the DWP cares more about how it is perceived by the outside world than it cares for minimising the public money it spends on this FOI case.

It’s likely that publication of the four reports would slightly embarrass the department but that would soon be forgotten.  Once incurred the legal costs cannot be reclaimed.

The DWP’s claims of a “chilling effect” should the reports be disclosed are entirely understandable. No publicly funded body wants be scrutinised. Officials would rather keep all their internal affairs secret.  But that’s not the way it works in a democracy.

Upper Tribunal ruling Universal Credit appeal

My submission to FOI tribunal on universal credit

Judge [first-tier tribunal] refuses DWP leave to appeal ruling on Universal Credit reports – April 2014

 

 

SAP an unseen player in Germany’s World Cup win

By Tony Collins

Brian McKenna of Computer Weekly has written an excellent article which shows the role played by SAP – headquartered in Germany – in the national football team’s victory over Argentina in the World Cup final.

In October 2013, the German Football Association and SAP began collaborating to develop a “Match Insights” software system for the German national team to use in preparation for and during the tournament.

SAP delivered a prototype in March 2014 and Germany’s coach Joachim Low and his management team have been using the software ever since.

During the World Cup, the German team analysed the data captured by video cameras around the pitch and turned it into information that could be viewed on tablet or mobile devices to help improve team performance and gain a deeper insight into its rivals.

The article quotes Oliver Bierhoff, a SAP brand ambassador and off-field manager of the German team,  assisting coach Joachim Low, as saying:

“We had a lot of qualitative data for the opposition available. Jerome Boateng asked to look at the way Cristiano Ronaldo moves in the box, for example. And before the game against France, we saw that the French were very concentrated in the middle but left spaces on the flanks because their full-backs didn’t push up properly. So we targeted those areas.”

There were eight cameras covering each pitch in Brazil and data was available to all the teams – but only the land of Audi, BMW and Mercedes made use of this type of big data analytics, writes McKenna.

Thank you to Dave Orr for drawing my attention to this article.

Brian McKenna’s article 

When suppliers over-promise

By Tony Collins

Here David Bicknell and I talk about suppliers’ over-promising. It is a radio studio recording for “Chaos Tuesday” . One of the questions is whether some suppliers promise more than they can deliver on purpose or because of a lack of understanding.

In each Chaos Tuesday recording, which is co-hosted by Jim Johnson, guests talk about distinct areas of project management.  Each recording covers one or more of The Standish Group’s 10 chaos factors of success:

Executive Support
User Involvement
Clear Business Objectives
Emotional Maturity
Optimizing Scope
Agile Process
Project Management Expertise
Skilled Resources
Execution
Tools & Infrastructure

Vendors overpromising

Stop filming! That’s the IBM exit strategy we’re discussing

By Tony Collins

Dave Orr, a former IT employee at Somerset County Council, is now a local taxpayer trying to see if public statements made aboutthe authority’s joint venture with IBM match up to the facts.

Some councillors don’t seem to welcome his scrutiny, or his campaigning which can attract the attention of the local press.

Somerset claims it is saving millions of pounds through the Southwest One joint venture – which is majority owned by IBM. But Orr has learned through FOI requests and council reports that once extra costs are taken into account the council has had a net loss of £53m on the contract. He points to:

- £52m of SAP and “transformation” costs the council paid upfront to IBM

- £4m of council bid costs

-  £2m for a written-off loan to Avon and Somerset Police for SAP

-  £3m interest on a £30m loan over 10 years

-  £3m in contract management costs

-  £5m in legal costs over a dispute with IBM

This totals £69m. Procurement savings to December 2013 were £16m – which gives a net loss of £53m. The contract is supposed to save £150m over its 10-year life. The deal was signed in 2007 by IBM, Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council and Avon and Somerset Police. The authorities are considering what they will do at the end of the contract.

Stop filming

At a meeting of the council’s audit committee last month, the chairman of the audit committee asked Orr to stop filming. He was using a Panasonic compact camera. A vote was proposed and seconded that the meeting not be recorded.

Five councillors voted in favour and 3 Lib-dems abstained. Those supporting the motion to stop filming included Tory, Labour and UKIP members.  Somerset is Conservative controlled.

Orr says the discussion shortly before the vote was taken was on Southwest One and the council’s exit strategy from the contract.  Councillors also agreed that they may at a later date go into a secret “Part 2″ session to discuss a “lessons learnt” report about the collaboration with Southwest One.

A blow to local democracy?  

The government has issued guidance that states explicitly that councils should allow the public to film council meetings. Under the heading “Lights, camera, democracy in action” an announcement by local government secretary Eric Pickles  says on the gov.uk website:

“I want to stand up for the rights of journalists and taxpayers to scrutinise and challenge decisions of the state. Data protection rules or health and safety should not be used to suppress reporting or a healthy dose of criticism.

“Modern technology has created a new cadre of bloggers and hyper-local journalists, and councils should open their digital doors and not cling to analogue interpretations of council rules.

“Councillors shouldn’t be shy about the public seeing the good work they do in championing local communities and local interests.”

Before the meeting of the audit committee Orr had obtained informal consent from the council to filming.

Comment

Open government is not a party political issue – none of the parties seem to want it. Indeed councillors at Somerset seem at their most comfortable  when voting for secrecy.  Is this because it gives them a feeling of privilege – having access to information the ordinary citizens don’t have?

In central government one of the first things the civil service does after a general election is give new ministers access to state secrets. It distances the ministers from ordinary people. Ministers feel privileged – “one of us”.  Is this the main unspoken reason some Somerset councillors  love to have secret meetings?

Councillors may feel weighed down by Orr’s questions and campaigning. But his questions are arguably more important than those raised internally by deferential party politicians who don’t ask the most difficult questions.

If anything they should be asking themselves whether they should ask the questions he is asking.

It’s too easy on big outsourcing contracts for supplier and client to put a gloss on the relationship. It’s easier talking about unsubstantiated savings than explaining why the contract isn’t making the savings originally intended. And it’s even easier when you shun scrutiny from members of the public.

IDS confirms that UC “full” business case not approved

Tony Collins

For the first time Iain Duncan Smith has made the distinction between the full business for Universal Credit, which has not been approved, and the strategic outline business case which has been approved.

The truth emerged after a question in the House of Commons this afternoon by Chris Bryant, shadow minister for welfare reform.

On previous occasions when ministers had been asked whether the business case for UC had been approved they replied that the strategic outline business case had been approved. They omitted to say that the full business case, which assures long-term finance for the programme, has not yet been approved.

Now IDS has confirmed to Bryant that approval of the full business case for UC is due “very shortly”. Bryant had asked IDS whether the business case had been approved – yes or no? IDS gave a lengthy reply before answering the question.  He said:

“The Treasury have approved the funding for Universal Credit in 2013, 2014, and 2015 [though not beyond that] in line with the plan I announced in December last year… the final stage in this process, and the logical point is now, has always been to approve and sign off the full business case covering the full, long lifetime of this programme going on beyond this Parliament.

“We are in discussions over that and will eventually bring the £35bn economic benefits to society … and my right honourable friend (in the Treasury) I am certain will approve that very soon.”

Approval of the full business case is far from guaranteed. Withholding consent gives the Cabinet Office, Major Projects Authority and the Treasury a continued say over how the UC programme develops.

Once approval of the full business is given, the centre of government will have less influence over the programme.

Opposition MPs also asked IDS this afternoon whether he would publish the UC business case. He said that no government has previously published business cases but he would consider the matter and discuss it with MPs.

The DWP has not published any of its internal or commissioned UC reports.

Thank you to openness campaigner Dave Orr who drew my attention to the UC debate in the House of Commons today.

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