By Tony Collins
Changing the culture of the Home Office will be quite a challenge – but not an impossible one.
The immigration minister Damian Green has revealed in a Parliamentary reply that Siemens received at least £265m more than expected on a contract to build and run passport IT systems.
The extra money to Siemens was funded by the fees charged to passport applicants. The Home Office requires that the Identity and Passport Service covers its costs from passport fees – which have more than trebled since the start of the contract.
In September 1999, the fee payable by a member of the public making a postal application for a standard 10-year passport was:
– £21 for a standard passport
– £31 for passports issued over-the-counter.
Today a passport costs:
– £77.50 for a standard passport
– £129.50 for one over-the-counter.
Campaign4Change asked the Home Office for an explanation of the extra payments to Siemens. Its spokesman gave only a general account which answered none of our specific questions.
When we expressed gratitude to Andrew Bell in the Home Office’s press office for his quick response to our questions and pointed out that he hadn’t answered any of them he replied: “We have nothing to add”.
What’s clear is that the Home Office may be under new coalition management but its culture of non-accountability and secrecy haven’t changed.
It’s also clear that, with Gateway reviews remaining secret, Parliament has no certain way of knowing when any large IT-enabled change contract is deviating substantially from the contract in time, scope or costs.
In 2009 the Home Office replaced Siemens with CSC as the main passport IT supplier contract. Have extra payments been made to CSC under its £385m 10-year passport contract? Parliament has no idea, and neither do we.
Damian Green reveals extra payments to Siemens
Dr Whiteford: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the original estimate, at current prices, was for the cost to the public purse of the Siemens IT system for the Passport Agency; what the final cost, at current prices, was at the time of completion; and whether additional costs have been incurred since completion.
Damian Green: At the time of contract award, the anticipated contract value was between £80 to £100m over a 10-year period. The contract duration extended to 11 years at a total cost of approximately £365m.”
Green added: “The increase in costs over the term of the Siemens contract can be attributed to numerous factors including additional demand for passports, enhancements of the IT infrastructure and business processes to accommodate changes in policy, response to changes in security threats and customer service improvements.”
How well did Siemens perform on its £365m passport contract?
Siemens had mixed success on its passport contract. It helped introduce the new Passport Application Support System [PASS] in 1999 which failed badly, in part because of errors in scanning forms; and nobody realised until too late that extra processing time on applications was slowing down the issuing of passports.
The result was that hundreds of passport applicants had to cancel their holidays or change their travel dates. A national roll-out of PASS was delayed, and the new work processes and system eventually stabilised.
When the contract finished in 2009, CSC was appointed to build and run new IT systems under a £385m 10-year contract which included replacing the PASS. An upgrade of PASS in 2007 destabilised the system temporarily.
The incident made staff at the Identity and Passport Service realise that they could not subject the PASS system to further major changes without risking disruption to internal operations.
A year earlier, in 2006, the Identity and Passport Service had a failure with its introduction of an electronic passport application system EPA2. To its credit the Service later published the lessons from the project. This decision on openness came from managers at the passport service, rather than from within the Home Office HQ.
Home Office culture of secrecy remains
To see if anything has changed on openness and accountability since the last administration we asked the Home Office the following:
a) Does the Home Office consider the contract with Siemens to have been value for money?
b) Has, or will, the Home Office publish any information on the contract to justify or explain the extra spend, such as Gateway reviews?
c) Any comment please on a suggestion that Parliament should be kept informed of such increases.
d) Are there any plans to explain or tell Parliament about any increases in the cost of the [replacement] contract with CSC?
This was the reply of the Home Office’s spokesman Andrew Bell:
“The parliamentary answer – enclosed below – covers some of this.
“In addition, to note that Siemens contract was for developing and maintaining the IT infrastructure for IPS [Identity and Passport Service] to issue passports. It also included support for processing applications such as the scanning of the documents required for passports.
“The Identity and Passport Service awarded this new contract for providing this service to Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) in October 2009.”
Campaign4Change has given details of the Home Office’s replies to us to a campaigning MP.
We are grateful to publicservice.co.uk for its article which drew our attention to Damian Green’s reply.