Tag Archives: Coalition

Fire ‘superstations’ without software cost £1m a month – The Times

By Tony Collins

The Times reports today that taxpayers are paying more than £1m a month on the rent and upkeep of fire control rooms across England that have never been used. The purpose-built control centres look ready for immediate use, with open-plan desks fitted with desktop monitors and keyboards, and huge screens on a wall at the front of the control rooms which are supposed to help fire and rescue crews mobilise appliances and manage incidents.

Only there’s no working software.  The Department for Communities and Local Government negotiated the end of a contract with the main contractor EADS for software to run the regional control centres in December 2010. Officials concluded that the software could not be delivered within an acceptable timeframe. The regional control centres were completed before the IT project was cancelled.

The cost of the centres has been uncovered after a request under the FOI Act. The Times devotes much of its page three to a story under the headline:

Revealed: scandal of the £1m-a-month fire service ‘superstations’ lying empty.

Only one of nine regional centres is in use. The other eight incur rent, electricity, water and repair costs at £1,134,566 a month. Costs will be incurred for years because there are no break clauses in the agreements to lease the buildings. Two leases come to an end in 2027, one in 2028, two in 2032, three in 2033 and one in 2035.

A spokesman for the Department said that agreement has been reached for a further two of the buildings to be used by local fire authorities. Officials are searching for public or private sector tenants to occupy the other regional centres.

Lord Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, who authorised the start of the technology project in 2004,  said he had been kept in the dark by civil servants on the rising costs of the scheme. He said it had been on budget when he left the department in 2007.

Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, said the failure of Firecontrol was an “expensive reminder of why you can’t trust Labour to run anything”. But the Coalition’s coming to power has not stopped central government IT-related failures.

Why Firecontrol failed

Firecontrol  followed the same tracks to a cliff edge that have caught out civil servants, ministers and suppliers on other government  computer-related projects.

The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee found that  the Firecontrol project was rushed, had little support from those who would use it, costs and complexity were underestimated, there was an over-reliance on consultants and a lack of accountability for decisions made  – or not made.

The idea was to replace 46 local control rooms with nine, linked regional centres, which would be equipped with new standardised computer systems to handle calls, mobilise equipment and manage incidents.

But the project was cancelled in December 2010 with ministers unsure the technology would ever work. The NAO estimates that £469m will be wasted on the project.

The NAO found that the scheme was “flawed from the outset”, largely because local fire and rescue officers did not want regional centres or major changes in the way they worked.  Introducing any large new system is difficult but with enthusiastic support serious problems can sometimes be overcome; but introducing a complex new system without support from those who would use it means staff will have little incentive to find ways around problems.

The NPfIT [National Programme for IT in the NHS] failed in part because it lacked support among GPs and NHS staff; and the complexity of introducing standardised technology in semi-autonomous hospitals – each one with different ways of working – was underestimated. It was the same with Firecontrol.

The complexity of introducing standardised systems in regional centres with no goodwill among staff – was underestimated.  From the start many local fire and rescue officers criticised the lack of clarity on how a regional approach would increase efficiency. “Early on, the Department’s inconsistent messages about the regionalisation of the Fire and Rescue Service led to mistrust and some antagonism,” said the NAO.

The technology project was rushed while local fire crews were excluded from project discussions. “The project progressed too fast without essential checks being completed. For example Departmental and Treasury approval was given without proper scrutiny of the project’s feasibility or validation of the estimated costs and savings,” said the Public Accounts Committee. The project went ahead before the full business case was written.

A review of the project as early as April 2004 found that the scheme was already in poor condition overall and at significant risk of failing to deliver. But the “Gateway” review report was kept secret for seven years.

Is the stage set for IT disasters in government to continue? So far the Coalition has decided, like Labour, to keep secret all internal reports on the progress or otherwise of its mega projects, including Universal Credit, though the policy on secrecy may be about to change, which Campaign4Change will report on separately.

Firecontrol – same mistakes repeated on other projects.

Mutuals likely to be focus of Government Right to Provide plans expected today

By David Bicknell

The Government looks set to make an announcement about mutuals today as part of ‘Right to Provide’ plans due to be unveiled by David Cameron. The likelihood of an announcement appears to have been leaked.

Here’s today’s Daily Mail’s take on the proposed announcement.

More details to follow

Updated: Rights to Provide Plans focus on “potential offered by mutual models”

Any point in today’s IT report by Public Administration Committee?

By Tony Collins

We congratulate the Public Administration Committee for following up its excellent Government and IT – “A recipe for rip-offs: time for a new approach” which was published in July 2011.

Too often MPs on Parliamentary committees, including those on the Public Accounts Committee, issue reports then forget about them.

Today’s report of the Public Administration Committee is disappointing though. It’s a fog of well-meant words. It comments in detail on the government’s response to the “recipe for rip-offs” report and for the most part uses civil service language. Last year’s report had specific, hard-hitting messages. Today’s is like a marshmallow sandwich: nothing much to bite on.

There is not even a mention of the need to publish progress reports on the government’s biggest IT-related projects.

If Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, forced the civil service to publish these “Gateway” review reports, it would make departments accountable in a unprecedented way for the success or otherwise of projects and programmes while the schemes are running.

As it is, the government is being let off the hook in not publishing Gateway reports on Universal Credit or HM Revenue and Customs’ Real-Time Information programmes. These are two of the largest and riskiest of coalition schemes. Their monthly or quarterly progress, or lack of, will continue to go unreported.

Who cares? Certainly not the Public Administration Committee.

The Committee rightly describes the money wasted on IT in govermment as “obscene”. But its cloud of vague messages will do little more than indulge some civil servants who enjoy playing intellectually with ambiguous words and phrases to render them more uncertain.

Today’s Public Administration Committee report will change nothing. Fortunately Maude knows what needs to be done, with or without the Committee’s help.

Whitehall refuses to probe cartel claims, say MPs

Clegg speech renews Coalition mutuals and employee-ownership focus

By David Bicknell

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has advocated greater employee-ownership.

In a speech yesterday to the Corporation of London, he described employee share ownership as “a touchstone of liberal economic thought for a century and a half and a hugely under-used tool in unlocking growth.”

As this report explains,  he suggested that employee-owned firms could end the ‘standing feud between capital and labour’.

“We don’t believe our problem is too much capitalism: we think it’s that too few people have capital. We need more individuals to have a real stake in their firms.”

It could be the latest kick-start the mutuals and employee-ownership initiative needs. (And John Lewis’s marketing department must be wallowing again in the free publicity)

Not all coverage of Clegg’s speech has been positive, however, with Nils Pratley in the Guardian calling the employee share-ownership  ideas ‘half-baked’.  Pratley says the speech raised more questions than answers.  But in fairness, I don’t think Clegg’s intention was to lay out a complete White Paper for action. It was merely to continue to put employee ownership on the agenda for discussion.

Text of Nick Clegg’s speech

Fiddling savings on shared services? Officialdom in need of reform

 By TonyCollins

An NAO report today suggests that some officials are fiddling projected savings figures from a shared services deal involving seven research councils.

It all began so well. A Fujitsu press release in 2008 said:

“UK Research Councils to implement shared services with Fujitsu. £40 million project will generate cost and efficiency savings across the organisations.”

An executive who representedFujitsu Services’ was quoted in the press release as saying at the time:

“Fujitsu is consistently proving that it can deliver effective shared services infrastructures and is playing a vital role in driving forward the transformational government agenda through shared services.

“Organisations that adopt a shared services approach can experience genuine economies of scale and reduction in costs which can be essential in their drive for continuous improvement.

Twenty-one months later Fujitsu and Research Councils UK parted company. The 10-year shared services contract began in August 2007. It was terminated by mutual consent in November 2009.

A revealing report, which is published today by the National Audit Office, shows how, despite the best intentions by the Cabinet Office to improve the management of IT-related projects and programmes, and decades of mistakes to learn from, some officials in departments are still making it up as they go along.

The worrying thing in the NAO report is not only what happened in the past – few will be surprised that the NAO report characterises the shared services deal as lacking professionalism. What’s worrying is officialdom’s more recent disregard for the truth when claiming savings for its shared services arrangements.

The NAO’s report”Shared Services in the Research Councils” suggests that officials manipulated – some could say fiddled – projected savings figures.

The NAO also found that officials awarded a £46m shared services contract to Fujitsu which came second in the bid evaluation. Exactly how the contract came to be awarded will be investigated soon by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee.

Origins of shared services contract  

In 2004 a review led by the Government adviser Peter Gershon suggested that the public sector should save money by sharing support services such as IT, HR and finance. In 2006 officials at the Department of Trade and Industry (now the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) encouraged their colleagues at seven research councils to set up a shared service centre, which they did.

The UK Research Councils is an important organisation. In 2009/10 it spent £3.7bn, mostly on giving research grants to universities, the European Space Agency and other organisations. Its biggest recipient of grants is the Medical Research Council.

Fujitsu contract

Public servants appointed Fujitsu in August 2007 to put in place the ICT systems to underpin the shared service centre in a ten-year contract worth £46m. Fujitsu came second in the initial bid evaluations.

The NAO said that the bidding process produced a shortlist of three companies including Fujitsu. Said the NAO:

“The initial weightings applied by the [bid] panel had placed Fujitsu second: although the bid had scored well on quality, it was 19 per cent more expensive than the cheapest bid.”

An independent review commissioned by the project board backed the evaluations which put Fujitsu second. But the bid panel and the project board had concerns about the evaluation. The supplier chosen in the evaluation – which the NAO refuses to name – did not score well on quality requirements.

It appears that the bid panel and the project board preferred Fujitsu.

Mathematical error

Then officials happened to spot a mathematical error in the bid scoring. The corrected scoring left Fujitsu on top, as the new preferred bidder.

Said the NAO:

“… a mathematical error was identified by a member of the project team that changed the order of the preferred suppliers, leaving Fujitsu as the front runner

“The [bid] panel reconvened to discuss this but, rather than re-performing in full the quantitative and qualitative analysis and submitting this to independent review, it decided to appoint Fujitsu on the basis of a vote.

“In September 2007 the gateway review team concluded that the incident had weakened the value of the overall process and had left the project at risk of challenge.”

User requirements unclear

Full delivery was due in September 2008 but the project team and Fujitsu “quickly encountered difficulties, resulting in contract termination by mutual consent in November 2009”.

The NAO said there was “miscommunication between the parties about expectations and deliverables, primarily because design requirements had not been sufficiently defined before the contract started”.

Fujitsu consequently missed agreed milestones. “Fujitsu and the Centre told us that the fixed-rate contract awarded by the project proved to be unsuitable when the customers’ requirements were still unclear.”

Officials paid Fujitsu a total of £31.9 million, of which £546,000 related to termination costs. Despite the payments to Fujitsu, parts of the system were withdrawn and rebuilt in-house.

Overspend on Fujitsu contract

The NAO found there were “significant overspends on design and build activities and the contract with Fujitsu.”

At least £13m wasted on Fujitsu deal

Said the NAO:

“Had the Fujitsu contract worked as planned, we estimate that the additional £13.2m design and build costs … would not have been needed. In addition the project management overspend of £9.1m would have been lower, as, after termination of the Fujitsu contract, a significant overhead in managing contractors was incurred by the project.”

Fujitsu out – Oracle in

The breakdown in relations with Fujitsu led to the appointment of Oracle as supplier of the grants element of the project. “The contract with Oracle suggested that lessons had been learnt by the project following its experience with Fujitsu, with greater effort given to specifying the design upfront,” said the NAO.

Did officials know what they were doing?

In deciding how to share services the research councils came up with six options including setting up a centre run jointly by the councils or joining with another public sector agency such as one supplying the NHS.

But two of the options including the NHS one were dropped without proper analysis, said the NAO. The remaining four options were each given a score of one to three, against seven criteria. “The scores appear to be purely judgemental with no quantified analysis,” said the NAO.

Even if the six options had been properly appraised, the evaluation would have failed because it did not include a “do-minimum” option as recommended by HM Treasury.

“Overall, the quality of options appraisal was poor,” said the NAO.

Fiddling the figures?

 The NAO found that:

–         Initial estimates were of zero projected procurement savings from shared services. But by the time the first draft of the business case had been written the projected savings had soared to £693.9m.

–         When this project board queried this figure the research councils’ internal audit service scaled down the figure to £403.7m – but this included £159.3m of savings that internal audit had concluded were not soundly based.

–         Since the shared services centre began officials have recorded procurement savings of £35.2m against the business case and while of these are valid savings some are not. The NAO investigated 19 high-value savings that represented 40% of savings recorded to the end of 2010 and found that 35% “should not be claimed against the project investment”.

–         The research councils have been “unable to provide paperwork to substantiate the claimed saving”.

–         Savings claimed were indistinguishable from normal business practice such as disputing costs claimed by a supplier.

–         Clear evidence exists that the budget holder had no intention or need to pay the higher price against which the saving was calculated

–         Last month the research councils claimed that savings were £28m higher than they had reported previously owing to errors in the original numbers. But the NAO found that the councils were unable to reconcile fully the two sets of numbers; had not used a single method for calculating benefits or tracked these effectively; and had not included £7m of spending incurred by the councils. “Overall, this review has highlighted that Councils have not put in place proper processes to track benefits and forecast future operational savings,” said the NAO.

–         Further, investments needed to deliver projected savings have not been included in calculations.

–         Double counting. A revised target for projected procurement savings procurement “includes elements of double counting …”

Other NAO findings:

–        Four Gateway review reports of progress on setting up the shared services centre, including a review which put the project at “red – immediate action needed”, were not fully followed up. 

–         There was no evidence of intervention by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills when it became clear the shared services project was likely to overspend.

–         The shared services centre has begun to match the pre-shared services payment performance of the research councils but a high number of invoices was on hold at the end of July 2011 because of problems with the end-to-end processes. About 5,900 invoices were on hold, awaiting payment, in July 2011, which was 21 per cent of all invoices due to be paid in that month. The reason for the delay was being investigated.

–         Despite the shared services arrangements, some research council staff were at times running parallel systems, or managing their businesses without adequate data.

–         In July 2011 the shared services centre had 53 key performance targets to meet but was only able to measure activity against 37 of them and of these met only 13..

–         Five of the seven research councils did not file annual accounts on time in 2011 in part because functions in the finance ICT system were not delivered by the project.

Some good news

Said the NAO:

“The grants function and its associated ICT system developed by the project has allowed the Councils to replace older systems that were increasingly at risk of failing. This is of critical importance, given that the processing of research grant applications lies at the heart of what the Councils do. The single grants system has the potential to make it easier for the Councils to collectively modify their processes in the future…”


The commendably thorough NAO investigation has shown once again how badly departments and their satellites are in need of independent Cabinet Office oversight when it comes to major IT-related projects. In that respect thank goodness for the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority. But how much influence can it really have? How much influence is it having?

This NAO report suggests that some officials are fiddling the figures without a care for professional accounting practices. Double counting, not including full costs in projected savings calculations, not having paperwork to support figures and other such administrative misdemeanours indicates that some officials are making up savings figures as they go along.

What is to be done when some departments and their agencies are not to be trusted in managing major projects?

NAO report on shared services at seven research councils

Investors sue CSC

By Tony Collins

The Observer reported yesterday that some CSC investors are suing the company, saying it was giving assurances about the “Lorenzo” software when it had been warned that the software project was on a “death march”.

According to the class action complaint, which was brought on behalf of a number of investors led by a major Canadian fund, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, CSC knew in May 2008, through reports and testing, that Lorenzo was “dysfunctional and undeliverable”.

The complaint cites one member of an internal CSC “delivery assurance review team” which visited the UK and India, where Lorenzo was developed, in early 2008.

He said the team were consistent in the message that CSC could not meet its deadline. “We could not deliver the solution set that we had contracted with the NHS.”

The review team member added that, at the time, “costs were building up on the balance sheet and the project was behind schedule”. The review team knew that the contract was a loser and CSC should have recognised a loss in 2008, according to The Observer, quoting the team member.

Lorenzo’s deputy head of testing told a second delivery review team that test results were “abysmal”. According to court filings, the test official was later told by his boss to “shut up”, which he took to mean he should no longer criticise testing.

Shortly before retiring in April this year, the deputy head of testing emailed CSC chief executive Michael Laphen saying: “The project is on a death march where almost as many defects are being introduced as are being fixed. Look at the defects reports.” Despite these internal concerns, CSC told investors that Lorenzo and CSC’s work for the NHS was on track.

Investors said they dismissed negative media reports on the basis of reassurances from CSC that the NHS work was on track, making significant progres in testing, and receiving positive feedback from the NHS. In response to press coverage, CSC is said to have told investors: “The press speculated wildly and inaccurately on the status of the NHS programme.”

CSC has made no statement.

Lorenzo is the main NPfIT product to be delivered and deployed to NHS trusts by CSC under contracts worth about £3bn. The Cabinet Office and the Department of Health are negotiating with CSC to continue or drop Whitehall’s commitments to CSC Lorenzo deployments.

CSC’s share price today stood at $26.85,  close to a five-year low.

Class action document – Guardian website

Simon Bowers’ article in The Observer



CSC NPfIT deal is a crucial test of coalition strength

By Tony Collins


The Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority has intervened in NHS Connecting for Health’s running of the NPfIT.

In particular the Authority has taken a role in the negotiations between CSC and the Department over the future of about £3bn worth of local service provider contracts.

Had the Authority not intervened a memorandum of understanding between CSC and the DH is likely to have been signed several months ago. Fortunately for taxpayers a deal wasn’t signed.

According to a leaked Cabinet office memo the deal would have been poor value for money. It would have cut £700m or more from the cost of CSC’s contracts but doubled the cost to taxpayers of the remaining deployments.

The Cabinet Office memo said the “offer [from CSC] is unattractive”. It added:

“This is because the unit price of deployment per Trust under offer roughly doubles the cost of each deployment from the original contract”.

It could be said that signing such a deal with CSC would be as naive as a shopkeeper asking a Cadbury wholesaler to change his order from 100 chocolate bars to 30, and thus agreeing to paying Cadbury double the price for each bar.

Now it transpires that the official within the Cabinet Office who wrote the memo expressing concern about CSC’s offer is leaving. This could imply that an “unattractive” deal between the Department of Health over Lorenzo will go through after all.

Indeed the Cabinet Office has published its assessment of the NPfIT – the “Major Projects Authority Programme Assessment Review of the National Programme for IT” – which includes a section on CSC that suggests a new deal with the supplier may be signed, even though critics say the NPfIT contract with CSC should be “parked” with no further action taken on it.

The DH has accused CSC of breach of contract and vice versa. A legal dispute can be avoided by parking the contract with the agreement of both sides. If the DH signs a new deal with CSC it will be a sign that the intervention of the Cabinet Office has come to little or nothing.  It will also be a sign of coalition weakness. If the coalition cannot have an effect on a deal the DH has long wanted to sign with CSC when can it effect in terms of central government reform?

This is the worrying  section in the report – dated June 2010 – of the Major Projects Authority:

“… if the decision is taken to allow the Lorenzo development and deployments to continue there needs to be a considerable strengthening of the renegotiated position first to give CSC the opportunity to step up to its failings and for a clear statement of obligations on all parties and a viable and deliverable plan to be created and adhered to.

“There is no certainty that CSC would deliver fully in the remaining time of the contract, but the terms of the renegotiation could enable them to have a completed Lorenzo product which can compete in the market which replaces Local Service Providers…”

Other parts of the Major Projects Authority report are highly critical of Lorenzo. It says that in the North, Midlands and East of England there have been “major delays in the development of …Lorenzo”. As a result of the delays “interim and legacy systems have been used to maintain operational capability”.

The report also says the “productisation of Lorenzo is not mature” and adds: “This is evidenced by the fact that bespoke code changes are still being used in response to requirements from the early adopter trusts. This issue will be exacerbated if the remaining product development (of the modules referred to as Deployment Units) is not completed before future implementation roll-outs commence.”

The report says there is a need to be “certain about the capacity and capability of CSC to furnish sufficient skilled resources to undertake the level of roll-out needed to satisfy the existing schedule”.

It continues: “During the review it was mentioned that on occasion, people needed to leave the Morecambe Bay activity to go to the Birmingham installation at short notice to resolve problems. At this stage of the programme, CSC skills, schedule and utilisation rate, including leveraged resources, should be available to support a proposed roll-out schedule…”

There is still a “significant degree of uncertainty both about the planning of [Lorenzo] implementations and also the capability of the solution. The four key trusts chosen to implement the Lorenzo solution are in very different situations. University Hospitals Morecombe Bay is close to sign-off whilst Pennines Trust has stated its desire to leave the programme. Birmingham Women’s Hospital Trust is being held back by one issue which views have suggested are about a difference of opinion with the Supplier believing that they have met the Deployment Verification Criteria whilst the Trust is not happy about the level of functionality delivered. Connecting for Health expect to resolve this difference of opinion soon.”

And the MPA report says the latest implementation of Lorenzo 1.9 is “a long way short of the full functionality of the contracted solution which has four stages of functionality and is intended to be rolled currently out to 221 trusts”.

Lorenzo was originally due to have been delivered by the end of 2005.  If, after all the MPA’s criticisms, a new Lorenzo deal is signed what will this say about the ability of the Cabinet Office to influence decisions of civil servants?

In 2006 an internal, confidential report of CSC and Accenture on the state of Lorenzo and its future was positive in parts but listed a multitude of concerns. The summary included these words: “…there is no well-defined scope and therefore no believable plan for releases beyond Lorenzo GP…”

The current outdated NPfIT deal with CSC should be set aside , and no further action taken on it by both sides. CSC will continue to have a strong presence in NHS IT, at least because many trusts that have installed iSoft software will need upgrades.

But if a new NPfIT deal is signed with CSC it will greatly undermine the credibility of the Cabinet Office’s attempts to effect major change on the machinery of departmental administration; and it could help consign the so-called reforms of central government to the dustbin marked  “aspirations”. It will certainly give ammunition to the coalition’s critics. The Government has said it is dismantling the NPfIT. It didn’t say it was prolonging it.

FOI team hides already released Universal Credit report

By Tony Collins

Universal Credit is one the government’s most important IT-enabled programmes, along with HMRC’s “Real-time Information” scheme, Whitehall Shared Services and the MoD Change Programme.

If the Universal Credit programme goes wrong benefits claimants could have payments held up or receive incorrect amounts.

For this reason it is important that the coalition doesn’t repeat Labour’s mistake of wrapping IT-related projects and programmes in so much secrecy that the public, MPs and the media only discover problems when it is too late to effect a rescue.

Early warning of faltering projects

There is an early-warning of projects and programmes that are likely to falter or are actually faltering: “Starting” gate reviews and “Gateway” reviews, which are independent assessments of big or risky schemes.

The coalition in opposition promised to publish Gateway reviews if they came to power but civil servants have persuaded ministers to drop the proposal: does the minister want opponents and the media picking up authoritative internal information on projects that may be going wrong?

Our FOI request

Because of the continued suppression of the reports Campaign4Change, on 20 May 2011, made a request under the Freedom of Information for the Department for Work and Pensions to release a copy of Gateway reviews on the Universal Credit project.

The reply was nearly helpful. “There have been no Gateway reviews on the Universal Credit programme.  There has been one Starting Gate review on the Universal Credit programme.” The reply, by Jack Goodwin of the DWP’s Universal Credit Briefing Team, did not include a copy of the Starting Gate review report, so we sent a follow-up email.

We pointed that that Public Administration Committee had already requested a copy of the Universal Credit Gateway Zero Review and, in response, the DWP had sent the Committee a copy of the Stating Gate review, though the Committee decided not to publish it.

On 13 July the DWP said it needed extra time to consider our request. Gina Talbot at the DWP’s “Freedom of Information Focal Point” said: “I need to extend the time limit because the information requested must be considered under one of the exemptions to which the public interest test applies. This extra time is needed in order to make a determination as to the public interest. Accordingly, I hope to let you have a response by 10 August 2011.”

DWP wasting public money

This extra time and consideration was unnecessary and a waste of public money because the DWP had already given the report to the Public Administration Select Committee. Indeed the Universal Credit Starting Gate report had also been lodged in the House of Commons library after an MP asked the Cabinet Office’s Ian Watmore for a copy in May 2011.

So the DWP was considering at length whether to release a report that the Department had already released twice – to two separate committees of the House of Commons.

Grounds for appeal

In August the DWP formally refused Campaign4Change’s request, so we appealed. These were some of the reasons we gave:

i) Universal Credit is one of the government’s “mission-critical” projects and its success will be potentially important to tens of millions of benefit claimants.

ii) In the public interest, MPs, the media and public should understand the project’s feasibility risks and chances of success – in short whether it has got off to a good start. The Starting Gate report could help provide such an insight.

iii) The Public Accounts Committee has recommended that Starting Gates be published. The refusal of our request would appear to be a denial of the wishes of the Committee.

iv) Sometimes statements in published Gateway reviews have turned out to be too weak, sometimes too strong. There is no reason to believe that if the reviewers know their reports are for public consumption they will weaken their comments; and if they do weaken them the published reports will allow the quality of advice to be questioned or challenged by what the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude calls armchair auditors.

v) The objection to publishing the reviews is that publication may inhibit candour. Starting Gate reviewers have a public duty to give the best advice they can (and indeed are paid for doing so). If they alter their advice to make it more acceptable to the public, media and Parliament they are failing in their public duty to give the best possible advice in all circumstances. Equally, if they give their advice in the expectation it will be kept confidential and therefore that they will not be held accountable for it, and alter their best advice on this basis, they could be failing in their public duty.

vi) There is no certain means for Parliament, the media or the public to know how large IT-based projects and programmes are progressing. Sometimes the National Audit Office reports on large IT-based projects, sometimes not.  The NAO cannot be relied on to produce the equivalent of a Starting Gate review on a large IT-based project or programme. Gateway reviews are not usually published contemporaneously.

vii) Coalition ministers have made it clear in numerous speeches that the public have a right to know how their money is being spent. Universal Credit is costing, as an IT-based  programme, several hundreds of millions of pounds. It is not in keeping with the spirit of ministerial statements on openness that the DWP keep confidential the Starting Gate review on Universal Credit. It is the only independent report on the feasibility of the project.

viii) Universal Credit is known to be a risky programme which senior civil servants have acknowledged. The Starting Gate review is likely to show whether or not those risks are understood.

ix) In refusing our request the DWP has not given any reasons for stating that it is satisfied that the “public interest in maintaining this exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure”.

DWP rejects our appeal

Our appeal came to nothing. It was refused by the DWP’s David Hodgson Stakeholder Manager, who said in a letter:

“The case has been examined afresh, and guidance has been sought from domain experts to ensure all factors were taken fully into account. I have reviewed the original decision carefully and have decided to uphold the original decision withholding information for the following reason.

“While we recognise that publication of this information would provide an independent assessment of the key issues and risks, we have to balance this against the fact that the review document includes operational details of a sensitive nature whose publication would prejudice effective conduct of public affairs.

“The Department is satisfied that the public interest in maintaining this exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”

The report was  released months ago

The DWP lodged the report in the House of Commons library months ago so it is in the public domain anyway. The department’s effort and time twice refusing the release of the report wasted public money.

Campaign4Change has now obtained a copy of the report via the House of Commons’ library.  We  will, separately, publish an article on the contents of the Starting Gate review report on Universal Credit.


This episode suggests that officials at the DWP default to secrecy whatever the coalition says about openness and transparency. There are many superficially valid reasons officials can give to keep Gateway and Starting Gate reports secret. It is up to ministers to challenge that secrecy. If they don’t, the same mistakes and cycles will be repeated:

a) IT-related projects and programmes will continue to falter in secret, as they did under Labour

b) MPs and the media will try and find out the truth

c) Ministers will go on the defensive

d) The truth will eventually emerge and the coalition will be branded as inept when managing large IT-based projects and programmes – as inept as Labour.

If ministers publish Gateway progress reports now – as early warning reviews – we and others will applaud if early action is taken to stop or rescue a failing project. If ministers continue to pander to civil service secrecy the media and Parliamentarians will be right to criticise the coalition. Ministers have a chance to avoid the stigma of mismanagement of public funds. But will they take it?

NPfIT to be “dismantled” – brick by brick

By Tony Collins

A Department of Health press release issued this morning is headlined:

                        Dismantling the NHS National Programme for IT

I asked a senior official at the Department what is new in the announcement. The official’s diplomatic reply was simply: “I am not sure how to answer that.”

There is nothing new. There is no evidence in the press release of the Department’s claim that the NPfIT is being dismantled. Negotiations continue with CSC over its £3bn worth of NPfIT contracts and BT’s deals will remain in place.

Spending on the NPfIT has been about £6.4bn so far – and about £4bn has yet to be spent. The Government has succeeded in persuading some in the general public that the NPfIT is dead. The Daily Mail’s front page has the headline:

                                £12bn NHS Computer System is Scrapped

The online version of the story has had more than 460 comments, which suggests it has been widely read.

The actual announcement gives a hint of the conflicting views among civil service and ministers. The first paragraph of the Department of Health’s press release says the NPfIT is being dismantled and the second paragraph praises the scheme.

“The government today announced an acceleration of the dismantling of the National Programme for IT, following the conclusions of a new review by the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority (MPA). The programme was created in 2002 under the last government and the MPA has concluded that it is not fit to provide the modern IT services that the NHS needs. In May 2011 the Prime Minister announced in the House of Commons that the MPA would be reviewing the NHS National Programme for IT. 

 “The MPA found that there have been substantial achievements which are now firmly established, such as the Spine, N3 Network, NHSmail, Choose and Book, Secondary Uses Service and Picture Archiving and Communications Service.  Their delivery accounts for around two thirds of the £6.4bn money spent so far and they will continue to provide vital support to the NHS. However, the review reported the National Programme for IT has not and cannot deliver to its original intent.”

The signs are that the scheme will be dismantled brick by brick – and will be almost completely dismantled by the time the NPfIT contracts with BT and CSC expire in 2013 and 2014.  The coalition has achieved a PR coup with the Daily Mail story because the public has the impression that in these austere times a £12bn NHS IT scheme initiated by Labour has been scrapped.

The reality is that nothing has changed.

Department of Health announcement

CSC ambivalent on prospects of new NHS IT deal

By Tony Collins

CSC is not quite as confident as it was on new NPfIT contracts

CSC is meeting UK Government officials next month to discuss the company’s £3bn worth of NHS IT contracts. It follows a review of the NPfIT contracts by the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority.

It’s likely officials will discuss a major revision of CSC’s contracts – and possibly an end to them. The Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude is thought to favour termination but the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, on the advice of NHS Chief Executive Sir David Nicholson, wants to keep CSC in a revised NPfIT.

Recommendations from the Cabinet Office have gone to David Cameron for a decision.

In a conference call yesterday on the company’s first quarter results CSC’s executives said the outcome of the NHS contracts represented an “elevated” risk factor.  But they said CSC is still on target for signing a new deal.

Mike Laphen, CSC’s Chief Executive, said his company has included in its forecasts about $250m [£155m] of NHS turnover until the end of its financial year in April 2012. Any delay in reaching a new deal in September could affect the $250m forecast said Laphen.

He said: “Right now we are assuming that we are still on target with the MoU [Memorandum of Understanding between CSC and the Department of Health]. We are absolutely staffed up ready to execute. We’ve got the products in the delivery pipeline and we believe we have the demand…”

On its NHS work CSC continues to “execute and deliver against our current commitments across primary and secondary care”. CSC’s iSoft “Lorenzo” remains in production routinely supporting daily operations at three early adopter sites.

“We are progressing delivery modules… including emergency care and outpatient prescribing which are anticipated to be installed at the University Hospitals Morecambe Bay once an agreement is reached with the authority,” said a CSC spokesman.

The company told analysts that for its 2012 financial year “there are still a number of large balls still in the air” which include the NHS contract, integration of iSoft and US government spending. “Our business is sound and we have one of the strongest balance sheets in our industry,” said the company.

UK IT market analysts Techmarketview said CSC’s management team “isn’t quite as confident of a positive outcome [on talks over NHS contracts] as it was a few months ago – and rightly so.”

CSC also noted there had been a “significant shift in the market”  from outsourcing to cloud, though with cloud many companies are still deciding “what they’re going to do, or not do”.

MP contacts No 10 and Cabinet Office on CSC’s NHS IT contracts.

BT slammed over NPfIT value-for-money claim.

Was NPfIT really a programme?

Trust forced to buy NPfIT software or face fine

NPfIT has proved unworkable – BCS