Category Archives: compliance with spending review

Francis Maude –“unacceptable” civil service practices

By Tony Collins

Francis Maude laments civil service inaction over a cabinet committee mandate for centralising procurement. It “corrodes trust in the system”.

Gus O’Donnell, the former head of the civil service,  confronted Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister in charge of civil service reform, on BBC R4’s In Defence of Bureaucracy last week.

The irreconcilable differences between O’Donnell and Maude were obvious and may be a sign of how difficult it will be for the minister to make lasting and deep cuts in IT-based spending, simplify overly complex processes, and reduce duplication.

O’Donnell spoke of the virtues of the civil service that have served the country for more than a century, particularly its impartiality.  But Maude said the “value of impartiality can sometimes turn into indifference”.

O’Donnell said: “We need to be proud and passionate about the public sector ethos…” and confronted Maude for saying things about the civil service “that are not always totally positive”.

Indeed Maude said,

“Most of the civil servants I deal with are terrific, work hard and do really good work.  It is not universal.”

O’Donnell then confronted Maude for saying that ministers in this and previous government have too often found that decisions they have made don’t get implemented. Is that the fault of ministers or civil servants, asked O’Donnell.

“I’d be astonished if it’s ministers,” said Maude who added,

“ I had a meeting the other day around this table …  where a decision was made by a cabinet committee, more than a year ago, on the centralising of procurement. It had happened to a very minimal extent.

“If there is a problem with it, that can be flagged up and tell us. Just to go away and not do it is unacceptable … it is protection of the system. This is the speaking truth unto power thing. What is unacceptable is not to challenge a ministerial position but then not to implement it. That is what corrodes trust in the system.”

About £230bn a year – nearly a third of everything government spends – is on public sector procurement.  In 2010, Nigel Smith, then CEO of the Office of Government Commerce, spoke to the “Smartgov” conference about the need for major reform in the way government buys things.

He spoke of the need for re-useable software, open source if possible, and said that suppliers regularly use fragmentation within government to maximise profits. “This has got to change,” says Smith.

He said there were 44,000 buying organisations in the public sector which buy “roughly the same things, or similar things, in basic commodity categories” such as IT and office supplies.

Massive duplication

He spoke of “massive duplication”, high tendering costs on suppliers, and a loss of value due to a lack of true aggregation. He said suppliers had little forward look of opportunities to tender and offer innovative solutions for required outcomes.

“Contract management with supplier relationship management is inconsistent, with too little attention paid to continuous improvement and benefits capture within contract.

“The opportunity to improve outcomes and efficiency gains should not be constrained by contract terms and innovations should not stop at the point of contract signature.

“If we miss this opportunity [to reform] we need shooting.”

So it is clear procurement [and much else] needs reforming. But in the R4 broadcast last week (which unfortunately is no longer available) O’Donnell portrays a civil service that is almost as good as it gets.

He speaks of its permanence in contrast to transient ministers. His broadcast attacks the US system of government in which public service leaders change every time there is a new government.  The suggestion is that the US system is like a ship that veers crazily from side to side, as one set of idealogues take the captain’s wheel from another. O’Donnell implies that in the UK civil service stability lasts for decades, even centuries.

The virtues he most admires in the UK civil service are what he calls the 4 “Ps” – Pace, Passion, Professionalism and Pride.  His broadcast speaks of the UK civil service as a responsible, effective, continual and reliable form of administration.  

Comment

O’Donnell’s most striking criticism of Maude’s intended reforms of central government goes to the heart of what Maude is trying to do: change what is happening in departments.

When, in the broadcast, Maude suggested that civil servants were not challenging ministerial decisions and were not implementing them either, O’Donnell replied that Maude was “overstating the issue”. But O’Donnell went much further and added a comment that implied Maude should leave departments alone.

O’Donnell said

“These sorts of problems mainly arise when ministers at the centre of government want to impose their will on secretaries of state who want to be left alone to run their departments as they see fit.”

Is O’Donnell giving permanent secretaries and departmental ministers his support if they continue to snub Cabinet Office reforms?

It is hardly surprising Maude is a bundle of frustrations. Central government administration cannot be reformed if departments have the autonomy to refuse to implement decisions of a cabinet committee.

It is ironic that cabinet committee decisions are binding on the entire Cabinet – but not, it seems, on departments.

Perhaps the gap between political and civil service leaders at the centre, and senior civil servants in departments, is as irreconcilable as ever. Today’s UK civil service is more than ever “Yes Minister” without the jokes.  Should this be the dysfunctional basis for coalition reforms of central government?

Perhaps this explains why Maude is trying to implement open standards, make government procurement friendly to SMEs and encourage the use of G-Cloud while the Department for Work and Pensions and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are  agreeing new mega-contracts,  with the same handful of monolithic suppliers.

Sir Jeremy Heywood, the current Cabinet Secretary,  is perhaps a little more Maude-friendly than O’Donnell when he says in the R4 broadcast,

“There are lots of things we need to do better. Too many projects that we undertake are delayed, are over budget and don’t deliver on all the benefits that were promised. We are not as digital as the most effective private sector organisations are. We have been slow to embrace the digital revolution.”

Fine words. But if a cabinet committee’s decision on centralising procurement has little effect, how is Sir Jeremy going to convert his words into action? Or Francis Maude’s?

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Francis Maude reforms by saying “no” – a “massive” number of times

By Tony Collins

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has intervened to reject departmental projects a “massive” number of times says Ian Watmore, Cabinet Office permanent secretary and former Government CIO.

Evidence Ian Watmore gave to the Public Administration Committee last week suggests that the Cabinet Office’s saying “no” repeatedly to departmental projects has changed behaviours within the civil service.

Watmore, the Cabinet Office’s permanent secretary, told Tory MP Charlie Elphicke, that Francis Maude and his officials now have the power to challenge departments’ civil servants who try and ignore Cabinet Office recommendations.

“In the past, those controls did not exist so they [officials in departments and agencies] could ignore us if they wanted to and carry on as before,” said Watmore. “Under the new regime, they cannot do that because in the end, if they ignore the recommendations that we come to, then they have to seek approval for the expenditure they were going to make on their projects and Francis Maude would, in his own words, happily say ‘no’ in such situations, and say ‘no’ again until people actually came to the table and changed what they were doing.”

Elphicke: Has he done so to date?

Watmore: Yes, an absolutely massive number of times.

Changing behaviour

Since departments have found it harder to get the Cabinet Office to endorse their projects, departmental officials are now “bringing their plans to us much earlier in the timeframe because they do not want us saying ‘no’ when it is well advanced”,  said Watmore.

“So we are getting into a dialogue with them early on about what the best way of doing something is. When we have agreed on the best way of doing something, when it comes back for approval, it gets nodded through and that is working much more effectively.”

Watmore added that the Cabinet Office’s controls will become redundant over time “because people will behave the right way”. He said: “Like the Carlsberg complaints department was the analogy I had in my head; it exists but it is never used.. At the moment we use it a lot because, left to their own devices, people would do things that were suboptimal when you look at it from across Government.

“Francis Maude is in a position to say, ‘No, you are not doing that. You are going to do it this way and reuse somebody else’s system or somebody else’s way of doing things’. He is very hands-on and vigorous at doing that.

Comment:

Watmore’s evidence confirms that Maude remains the mainspring of change in the way government works. Without Maude the unreasonably costly status quo would prevail.  He may be in danger of spinning. But how many ministers like to say “no”? He is invaluable for that reason alone.

What will happen when Maude is promoted, stands aside or retires?  The minister who likes to say “yes”  will earn the respect of some of his civil servants. The refreshing thing about Maude is that he is happy to take his plaudits from taxpayers, not officialdom.

Watmore’s evidence to the Public Administration Committee, 13 March 2012.

Institute for Government open letter on civil service reforms – the problems and opportunities.

Is Francis Maude starting to spin – without realising it?

By Tony Collins

Francis Maude is, perhaps, the most effective Cabinet Office minister in decades.

If the business world divides into two main types of character, black and white, and grey – neither being better or worse than the other –  Maude is black and white.

He wants clarity. He shuns subtlety and complexity. He has no time for civil service sophistry and equivocation, or the coded language of some supplier representatives. He wants cuts in the cost of contracts and doesn’t want to hear long arguments on why things are not that simple. He had deep reservations over doing a new deal with CSC over the NPfIT.

A strength of Maude and his colleagues at the Cabinet Office has been the absence, or at least scarcity, of exaggerated and unsubstantiated statements of efficiency savings, of the sort made repeatedly during Labour’s tenure.

Is that beginning to change?

In the past fortnight Maude has made two major claims that are not based on published evidence.

• Maude said spending on SMEs has risen from 6.5% to 13.7%.  It’s not clear how that figure is calculated. There’s a good analysis of the tenuousness of the claim by Peter Smith of Spend Matters. How much of the increase in SME work is down to unaudited claims by large companies that they are giving their SMEs more work?

• He said that £200m has been cut from Capgemini’s Aspire contract with HMRC. [Aspire also involves Fujitsu and Accenture.] He has received much good publicity for the claim. Said the Telegraph yesterday:

“He [Maude]  announced that ministers had successfully renegotiated one deal on computers and tax systems for HM Revenue and Customs.

He said the new contract, with Capgemini, would save £200 million on the deal previously agreed.”

Last year Mark Hall, deputy CIO at HMRC was reported as saying that the Aspire contract was on course to save more than £1bn. Is the £200m quoted by Maude in many news articles this week new?

And none of the articles mention the total cost of the Aspire contract – so from what is £200m being cut?

At one point, according to Mark Hall, the estimated cost of Aspire rose to £10bn from its original estimate of £2.83bn over 10 years. This means that cost increases on the Aspire contract are measured in billions – which puts the £200m savings figure mentioned by Maude into context.

And have Maude and his team offered Capgemini anything in return for a price cut, such as an improved profit margin? [The contract is on an open-book accounting basis]. This week’s Cabinet Office statement on the £200m cut gives no help here. An HMRC FOI response in 2010 and an NAO report in 2006 show that costs of Aspire are fluid. They change according to internal demand; and pricing arrangements are complex. HMRC has refused FOI requests to publish the contract so how can anyone put the claimed £200m savings into a contractual content?

In 2007 negotiations between HMRC and Capgemini extended the 10-year contract by three years, to June 2017; and there’s an option to extend Aspire  for a further five years to 2022. In return for the contract extension Capgemini has already guaranteed savings of £70m a year and a further £110m a year from 2012. Are these savings in addition to the £200m a year Maude has announced? Or the £1bn savings mentioned by Mark Hall?

The good news is that HMRC’s CIO is Phil Pavitt who is a natural sceptic of big outsourcing deals. If anyone is going to achieve genuine savings on Aspire it is Pavitt. Indeed he has given some details of his negotiations. But the contractual context remains abstruse.

Comment

Doubtless Maude believes the figures he has announced on SMEs and Aspire are correct but without substantiation they will mean little to anyone except the media. Maude, perhaps, needs to trust his own cautious instincts than listen too much to his advisers. Otherwise he’ll begin to sound more like Labour ministers who repeatedly made claims the NAO found difficult to substantiate.

The important and impressive work Maude is doing to cut the costs of running government should not be trivialised and debased by spin. Announcements on what he is doing to cut costs and make government more open are usually helpful. But Maude should the first to differentiate the real – in other words the factually corroborated – from aggrandising and flimsy political claims.

G-Cloud – it’s starting to happen

By Tony Collins

Anti-cloud CIOs should “move on” says Cabinet Office official, “before they have caused too much harm to their business”.

For years Chris Chant, who’s programme director for G Cloud at the Cabinet Office, has campaigned earnestly for lower costs of government IT. Now his work is beginning to pay off.

In a blog post he says that nearly 300 suppliers have submitted offers for about 2,000 separate services, and he is “amazed” at the prices. Departments with conventionally-good rates from suppliers pay about £700-£1,000 a month per server in the IL3 environment, a standard which operates at the “restricted” security level. Average costs to departments are about £1,500-a-month per server, says Chant.

“Cloud prices are coming in 25-50% of that price depending on the capabilities needed.”  He adds:

“IT need no longer be delivered under huge contracts dominated by massive, often foreign-owned, suppliers.  Sure, some of what government does is huge, complicated and unique to government.  But much is available elsewhere, already deployed, already used by thousands of companies and that ought to be the new normal.

“Rather than wait six weeks for a server to be commissioned and ready for use, departments will wait maybe a day – and that’s if they haven’t bought from that supplier before (if they have it will be minutes).  When they’re done using the server, they’ll be done – that’s it.  No more spend, no asset write down, no cost of decommissioning.”

Chant says that some CIOs in post have yet to accept that things need to change; and “even fewer suppliers have got their heads around the magnitude of the change that is starting to unfold”.

“In the first 5 years of this century, we had a massive shift to web-enabled computing; in the next 5 the level of change will be even greater.  CIOs in government need to recognise that, plan for it and make it happen.

“Or move on before they have caused too much harm to their business.”

He adds: “Not long from now, I expect at least one CIO to adopt an entirely cloud-based model.  I expect almost all CIOs to at least try out a cloud service in part of their portfolio.

“Some CIOs across government are already tackling the cloud and figuring out how to harness it to deliver real saves – along with real IT.  Some are yet to start.

“Those that have started need to double their efforts; those that haven’t need to get out of the way.”

Cloud will cut government IT costs by 75% says Chris Chant

Chris Chant’s blog post

School report on Govt ICT Strategy – a good start

By Tony Collins

In a review of progress on the Government’s ICT Strategy after six months, the National Audit Office says that the Cabinet Office has made a “positive and productive start to implementing the Strategy”.

The NAO says that at least 70 people from the public sector have worked on the Strategy in the first six months though the public sector will need “at least another 84 people to deliver projects in the Plan”.

The UK Government’s ICT Strategy is more ambitious than the strategies in the US, Australia, Netherlands and Denmark, because it sets out three main aims:

– reducing waste and project failure

– building a common ICT infrastructure

– using ICT to enable and deliver change

The US Government’s ICT Strategy, in contrast, encompasses plans for a common infrastructure only – and these plans have not produced the expected savings, says the NAO.

In a paragraph that may be little noticed in the report, the NAO says that senior managers in central government have plans to award new ICT contracts (perhaps along the pre-coalition lines) in case the common solutions developed for the ICT Strategy are “not available in time”.

The NAO report also says that “suppliers were cautious about investing in new products and services because of government’s poor progress in implementing previous strategies”.

Of 17 actions in the Strategy that were due by September 2011, seven were delivered on time. Work on most of the other actions is underway and a “small number” are still behind schedule says the NAO.

The NAO calls on government to “broaden the focus to driving business change”.

Some successes of the UK’s ICT Strategy as identified by the NAO:

* The Cabinet Office has set up a small CIO Delivery Board led by the Government CIO Joe Harley to implement the ICT Strategy. The Board’s members include the Corporate IT Director at the DWP, CIOs at the Home Office, MoD, HMRC, Ministry of Justice and Department for Health, together with key officials at the Cabinet Office. The departmental CIOs on the Board are responsible directly to Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, for implementing the ICT Strategy in their departments and are accountable to their own minister. No conflicts have arisen

* Senior managers in central government and the ICT industry are willing to align their strategies for ICT with new cross-government solutions and standards but need more detail.

*  Some suppliers have offered help to government to develop its thinking and help accelerate the pace of change in ICT in government.

* The Cabinet Office intended that delivering the Strategy would be resourced from existing budgets. Staff have been redirected from other tasks to work on implementing the Strategy. “We have found collaborative working across departmental boundaries. For example HMRC and the MoD have combined resources to develop a strategy for greener ICT. Teams producing the strategies for cloud computing and common desktops and mobile devices have worked together to reduce the risk of overlap and gaps.

* The BBC has shown the way in managing dozens of suppliers rather than relying on one big company. For BBC’s digital media initiative, the Corporation manages 47 separate suppliers, says the NAO.

* The Cabinet Office intends that departments will buy components of ICT infrastructure from a range of suppliers rather than signing a small number of long-term contracts; and to make sure different systems share data the Cabinet Office is agreeing a set of open technical standards.

* Some of the larger departments have already started to consolidate data centres, though the NAO said that the programme as a whole is moving slowly and no robust business case is yet in place.

* The Cabinet Office is starting to involve SMEs. It has established a baseline of current procurement spending with SMEs – 6.5% of total government spend – and hopes that the amount of work awarded to SMEs will increase to 25%. Government has started talking “directly to SMEs”, says the NAO.

Some problems identified in the NAO report:

* Cloud computing and agile skills are lacking. “Government also lacks key business skills. Although it has ouitsourced ICT systems development and services for many years, our reports have often stated that government is not good at managing commercial relationships and contracts or procurement.”

* Suppliers doubt real change will happen. The NAO says that suppliers doubted whether “government had the appropriate skills to move from using one major supplier to deliver ICT solutions and services, to managing many suppliers of different sizes providing different services”.

* The Government CIO Joe Harley, who promoted collaboration, is leaving in early 2012, as is his deputy Bill McCluggage. The NAO suggests their departures may “adversely affect” new ways of working.

* The NAO interviewed people from departments, agencies and ICT suppliers whose concern was that “short-term financial pressure conflicted with the need for the longer-term reform of public services”.

* The culture change required to implement the Strategy “may be a significant barrier”.

* The Cabinet Office acknowledges that the government does not have a definitive record of ICT spend in central government (which would make it difficult to have a baseline against which cuts could be shown).

* The Cabinet Office has not yet defined how reform and improved efficiency in public services will be measured across central government, as business outcomes against an agreed baseline.

**

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today: ” ICT is going to play an increasingly important role in changing how government works and how services are provided.

“The Government’s ICT Strategy is in its early days and initial signs are good. However, new ways of working are as dependent on developing the skills of people in the public sector as they are on changes to technology and processes; the big challenge is to ensure that the Strategy delivers value in each of these areas.”

NAO report:  Implementing the Government ICT Strategy: six-month review of progress.

UK GovIT often a barrier not enabler says Cabinet Office official

By Tony Collins

In an interview for UKauthority.com Chris Chant, Executive Director at the Cabinet Office and head of the G-Cloud programme,  debunks the claims of some that GovIT doing a great job and should remain largely untouched.

Chant says: “IT is supposed to be an enabler. Quite often in my experience in government IT it is actually a barrier to getting things done. That’s no way to use IT. It is supposed to support what we do.”

His criticism puts into context claims by some in the civil service that GovIT is an unpublicised success because of the ease and success of online re-taxing of vehicles, the payment of benefits to millions of people and the collection of taxes.

Chant has made clear his concern that some departments are locked into major IT suppliers through costly, inflexible long-term contracts that, in some cases, are being signed anew.

“In the main we are not delivering good quality IT to government and public sector workers. We are not delivering good IT solutions to the citizen …”

He calls for internal change and describes SMEs as “front and centre to what we need”.

“It is with SMEs that agility and innovation lie, and it is that market we are really encouraging… Good IT is not developed by spending a long time trying to work out a definitive answer, and then taking ages over delivering it only to discover it is not what we needed in the first place. It is about iteration. I have said all along that we do not have all the answers. We will develop as we go and take SMEs with us.”

Asked whether the public sector is ready for the cloud Chant replies: “No we are not. We are quite a way from that… We are very well positioned to operate in a world where our IT is delivered by multinationals but now it is a different world.”

He says that the cloud has security limitations. “It is difficult to see the cloud in the short term handling some of the higher security aspects of what we do but for a lot of what government does it’s about commodity products and we need to get people in who know how to handle that.”

The focus he says must always be on the citizen – assumptions should not start from a departmental or systems standpoint. “We will need to change the way we do things; we will need some new people and I suspect a lot of retraining. I think we will need a lot fewer people working on the client side of government IT…

“We are in really tough times and the idea that we can operate with [current] cost levels is wrong…”

Government clouds take shape – UKauthority.com.

The unavoidable truths about GovIT – Chris Chant.

Vested interests will try to stop GovIT changing.

What exactly is HM Revenue and Customs paying Capgemini billions for?

DWP signs new large contracts with HP, Accenture, IBM and Capgemini.

Praise for departing Deputy government CIO

By Tony Collins

Bill McCluggage, the departing Deputy government CIO, has been praised by friends and colleagues for his strength of purpose as a change advocate, and for steering through the government ICT Strategy.

He is also admired by friends for “telling it like it is” despite the Cabinet Office’s restrictive communications policy.

Said one friend: “To get the ICT strategy out and into delivery underlines Bill’s credentials as a deliverer not just a strategist; and he regularly held his ground with those who sought to maintain the status quo.”

McCluggage announced this week he is leaving government to join storage supplier EMC. He said on Twitter that it’s “sad to leave excellent team that have delivered real change but time to move on and address new challenge”.  He said he counted himself “lucky to have been part of the vanguard of new GovtIT”.

Mike Bracken, Executive Director of Digital, Efficiency and Reform Group, Cabinet Office, said that Whitehall will be poorer in McCluggage’s absence.

McCluggage joined the Cabinet Office as Deputy Government CIO in September 2009. He has been Director of ICT Strategy & Policy and Senior Information Risk Owner with overall responsibility for the formulation, development and communication of cross-Government ICT strategies and policies.

He was IT Director at Harland & Wolff Heavy Industries in Belfast and was an engineering officer in the RAF. He is a chartered engineer and member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

As Deputy government CIO McCluggage has been a firm advocate of agile techniques, cloud computing, open source, cutting out waste and duplication, and bringing many more SMEs into GovIT.

Deputy Government CIO to join EMC.

Deputy government quits.

Cabinet Office loses another top ICT man.

Where is the Government CIO?

By Tony Collins

Joe Harley, Government CIO

Joe Harley, the government CIO, is much respected inside and outside of government.

Amiable, straight-talking and influential, he could be the Government’s civil service ambassador for change.  Like his predecessor John Suffolk he could use conferences and public events to talk inspirationally about the dystopian costs of government IT and what to do about them. He could jolt the complacent into an awareness of their self-deceptions.

Why hasn’t he? If the Government CIO has much to say  is not for the public ear.  While there has been talk in recent weeks of how five corporations control GovIT, and how it can cost up to £50,000 to change a line of code, Harley has been silent.

Where does the Government CIO stand on the need for major reform of the machinery of government, on the sensible risks that could save billions?

Is the top man in Government IT inspiring his colleagues and officials in other departments to do things differently?

It’s true that Joe Harley has enough to do – perhaps too much – in his “other” day job as CIO and Director General of Corporate IT,  Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

He is a leader of the programme that is helping to deliver Universal Credit. He chairs the public sector-wide CIO Council; and his trying to do more with a smaller budget will require all the skill and the experience he acquired as global CIO for ICI Paints and before that as BP’s IT Vice President for global applications, hosting and consultancy.

These responsibilities give Harley a chance to point to a new way, to confront unequivocally the costs of GovIT, to lead by example: by replacing gradually the long-term contracts and monolithlic suppliers of old; by listening to SMEs and employing them directly, and in more than a token capacity.

What has happened is the opposite. HP, Accenture, IBM and CapGemini are safe in his hands.

The DWP has recently awarded those suppliers new and conventionally-large, long-term contracts. Headlines in the past two months hint at how the DWP will, for years to come, dance to the tune of its large IT suppliers:

“DWP signs fifth large deal with HP”

“DWP awards Accenture seven year application services deal”

“DWP awards IT deals to IBM and Capgemini”

These deals could be seen as a protest against all that Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, stands for.

In March Maude spoke of a need for big contracts to be broken down into “smaller, more flexible projects” which would “open up the market to SMEs and new providers”. Maude wants to end the oligopoly of big GovIT suppliers – but does he have an influence at the DWP?

Nobody is suggesting that Harley shows a hard fist at the negotiating table. But he should assert himself sufficiently in public to make us believe that his appointment as Government CIO was more than the filling of a vacuum.

He doesn’t need to lead by radiating charisma; but can you inspire from the shadows?  Billions is spent unnecessarily each year on not changing the government administration. So it’s time Harley advocated change.  He could be a standing reproach to the myth that senior civil servants do all in their power to obstruct change.

Deposing the muscular monoliths in the supplier community will require a consuming interest in innovation, courage (risk-taking) and a passion to cut costs. Harley has many strengths and qualities. Surely these are among them. But if they’re not manifest soon, some in government will wonder if the Government CIO has gone missing.

Links:

DWP awards 7-year deal worth up to £350m to Accenture

DWP signs fifth large deal with HP

DWP awards deals to IBM and Capgemini

DWP signs big contracts with IBM and Capgemini