By Tony Collins
The Department for Work and Pensions could lead the public sector in technical innovations. It has had some success in cutting its IT-related costs. It has also had some success so far with Universal Credit, which is based on agile principles.
It has further launched an imaginative welfare-to-work scheme , the so-called Work Programme, which seeks to get benefit claimants into jobs they keep.
Despite media criticism of the way the scheme has been set up – especially in the FT - a report by the NAO this week made it clear that the DWP has, for the most part, taken on risks that officials understand.
Some central government departments have updated business cases as they went through a major business-change programme and not submitted the final case until years into the scheme, as in parts of the NPfIT.
But the DWP has implemented the Work Programme unusually quickly, in a little more than a year, by taking sensible risks. The NAO report on the scheme said the business case and essential justification for the Work Programme were drawn up after key decisions had already been made. But the NAO also picked out some innovations:
- some of the Work Programme is being done manually rather than rush the IT
- suppliers get paid by results, when they secure jobs that would not have occurred without their intervention. And suppliers get more money if the former claimant stays in the job.
- the scheme is cost-justified in part on the wider non-DWP societal benefits of getting the long-term unemployed into jobs such as reduced crime and improved health.
So the DWP is not frightened of innovation. But while Universal Credit and welfare-to-work scheme are centre stage, the DWP is, behind the safety curtain, awarding big old-style contracts to the same suppliers that have monopolised government IT for decades.
Rather than lead by example and change internal ways of working – and thus take Bunyan’s steep and cragged paths - the DWP is taking the easy road.
It is making sure that HP, Accenture, IBM and CapGemini are safe in its hands. Indeed the DWP this week announced a £316m desktop deal with HP. EDS, which HP acquired in 2008, has been a main DWP supplier for decades.
DWP responds to questions on £316m HP deal
I put it to the DWP that the £316m HP deal was olde worlde, a big contract from a former era. These were its responses. Thank you to DWP press officer Sandra Roach who obtained the following responses from officials. A DWP spokesperson said:
“This new contract will deliver considerable financial savings and a range of modern technologies to support DWP’s strategic objectives and major initiatives such as Universal Credit.
“The DWP has nearly 100,000 staff, processing benefits and pensions, delivering services to 22 million people.
“DWP is on schedule to make savings of over £100m in this financial year for it’s Baseline IT operational costs, including the main IT contracts with BT and HPES [Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services].
“All contracts have benchmarking clauses to ensure best value for money in the marketplace.
“The five year contract was awarded through the Government Procurement framework and has been scrutinised to ensure value for money.”
My questions and the DWP’s answers:
Why has the DWP awarded HP a £316m contract when the coalition has a presumption against awarding contracts larger than £100m?
DWP spokesperson: “The Government IT Strategy says (page 10) ‘Where possible the Government will move away from large and expensive ICT projects, with a presumption that no project will be greater than £100m. Moving to smaller and more manageable projects will improve project delivery timelines and reduce the risk of project failure’.
“HM Treasury, Cabinet Office and DWP’s commercial and finance teams have scrutinised the DWP Desktop Service contract to ensure that it represents the most economically advantageous proposition.”
What is the role, if any for SMEs ?
DWP: “There are a number of SMEs whose products or services will form part of or contribute to the DWP Desktop Service being delivered by HP, for example ActivIdentity, Anixter, AppSense, Azlan, Click Stream, Cortado, Juniper Networks, Quest Software, Repliweb Inc, Scientific Computers Limited (SCL), Westcon etc.”
Why is there no mention of G-Cloud?
DWP: “Both the new contract and the new technical solution are constructed in such a way as to support full or partial moves to cloud services at DWP’s discretion.”
For the bulk of its IT the DWP is trapped by a legacy of complexity. It is arguably too welcoming of the safety and emollients offered by its big suppliers.
The department is not frightened by risk – hence the innovative Work Programme which the NAO is to be commended on for monitoring at an early stage of the scheme. So if the DWP is willing to take on sensible risks, why does it continue to bathe its major IT suppliers in soothingly-large payments, a tradition that dates back decades? What about G-Cloud?