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  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