Tag Archives: Home Office

Civil servant in charge of £9.3bn IT project is not shown internal review report on scheme’s failings.

By Tony Collins

“If people don’t know what you’re doing, they don’t know what you’re doing wrong” – Sir Arnold Robinson, Cabinet Secretary, Yes Minister, episode 1, Open Government.

Home Office officials kept secret from the man in charge of a £9.3bn project a report that showed the scheme in serious trouble.

The Emergency Services Network is being designed to give police, ambulance crew and firemen voice and data communications to replace existing “Airwave” radios.  The Home Office’s permanent secretary Philip Rutnam describes the network under development as a “mission-critical, safety-critical, safety-of-life service”.

But Home Office officials working on the programme did not show an internal review report on the scheme’s problems to either Rutnam or Stephen Webb, the senior responsible owner. They are the two civil servants accountable to Parliament for the project.

Their unawareness of the report made an early rescue of the Emergency Services Network IT programme less likely. The scheme is now several years behind its original schedule, at least £3.1bn over budget and may never work satisfactorily.

The report’s non circulation raises the question of whether Whitehall’s preoccupation with good news and its suppression of the other side of the story is killing off major government IT-based schemes.

With the Emergency Services Network delayed – it was due to start working in 2017 – police, ambulance and fire services are having to make do with the ageing Airwave system which is poor at handling data.

Meanwhile Motorola – which is Airwave’s monopoly supplier and also a main supplier of the Emergency Services Network – is picking up billions of pounds in extra payments to keep Airwave going.

Motorola may continue to receive large extra payments indefinitely if the Emergency Services Network is never implemented to the satisfaction of he emergency services.

EE is due to deliver the network component of the Emergency Services Network. Motorola is due to supply software and systems and Kellogg Brown & Root is the Home Office’s delivery partner in implementing the scheme.

Has Whitehall secrecy over IT reports become a self-parody?

The hidden report in the case of the Emergency Services Network was written in 2016, a year after the scheme started. It said that dialogue between suppliers, notably EE and Motorola, did not start until after the effective delivery dates. Integration is still the main programme risk.

MP SIr Geoffrey Clifton Brown has told the Public Accounts Committee that the report highlighted an absence of clarity regarding dependency on the interface providers, which caused something of an impasse.

He said the report “alluded to the fact that that [a lack of clarity around integration] remains one of the most serious issues and is not showing any signs of resolution”.

Stephen Webb has been in charge of the project since its start but he is the business owner, the so-called “senior responsible owner” rather than the programme’s IT head.

In the private sector, the IT team would be expected to report routinely to a scheme’s business owner.

But in central government, secrecy over internal assurance reports on the progress or otherwise of major IT-related projects is a Whitehall convention that dates back decades.

Such reports are not published or shared internally except on a “need-to-know” basis. It emerged during legal proceedings over the Universal Credit IT programme that IT project teams kept reports secret because they were “paranoid” and “suspicious” of colleagues who might leak documents that indicated the programme was in trouble.

As a result, IT programme papers were no longer sent electronically and were delivered by hand. Those that were sent were “double-enveloped” and any that needed to be retained were “signed back in”; and Universal Credit programme papers were watermarked.

The secrecy had no positive effect on the Universal Credit programme which is currently running 11 years behind its original schedule.

Webb has told MPs he was “surprised” not to have seen review report on the Emergency Services Network. He discovered the report’s existence almost by accident when he read about it in a different report written a year later by Simon Ricketts, former Rolls Royce CIO.

This month the Public Accounts Committee criticised the “unhealthy good news” culture at the Home Office. The Committee blamed this culture for the report’s not being shown to Webb.

The Home Office says it doesn’t know why Webb was not shown the “Peter Edwards” report. The following was an exchange at the Public Accounts Committee between MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Webb and Rutnam.

Clifton-Brown: When you did that due diligence, were you aware of the Peter Edwards report prepared in the fourth quarter of 2016?

Rutnam: No, I’m afraid I was not. The Peter Edwards report on what exactly, sorry?

Clifton-Brown: Into the problems with ESN [Emergency Services Network], in particular in relation to suppliers.

Rutnam: I do not recall it. It may have been drawn to my attention, but I’m afraid I do not recall it.

Webb: It was an internal report done on the programme. I have not seen it either.

Clifton-Brown: You have not seen it either, Mr Webb—the documents tell us that. Why have you not seen such an important report? As somebody who was in charge of the team—a senior responsible officer—why had you not seen that report?

Webb: I don’t know. I was surprised to read it in Simon’s report. [Simon Ricketts.]

Chair: Who commissioned it?

Webb: The programme leadership at the time.

Chair: That is the board?

Webb: The programme director. It was a report to him about how he should best improve the governance. I think he probably saw it as a bit of an external assurance. It probably would have been better to share it with me, but that was not done at the time.

Clifton-Brown: “Probably would have been better to share it”? That report said that dialogue between suppliers, notably EE and Motorola, only started after the effective delivery dates. The report highlighted that there was not clarity regarding dependency on the interface providers, and that caused something of an impasse. It also alluded to the fact that that remains one of the most serious issues and is not showing any signs of resolution. That was in 2016, in that report. Had that report been disseminated, would we still be in the position that we are today?

Webb: I think that we would have wanted to bring forward the sort of [independent] review that the Home Secretary commissioned, and we would have done it at an earlier date.

Clifton-Brown: Why did you need to? You would not have needed to commission another review. You could have started getting to the root of the problem there and then if you had seen that report.

Webb: Yes.

Comment:

Webb and Rutman seem highly competent civil servants to judge from the open way they answered the questions of MPs on the Public Accounts Committee.

But they did not design the Emergency Services Network scheme which, clearly, had flawed integration plans even before contracts were awarded.

With no effective challenge internally and everything decided in secret, officials involved in the design did what they thought best and nobody knew then whether they were right or wrong. With hindsight it’s easy to see they were wrong.

But doing everything in secret and with no effective challenge is Whitehall’s  systemically flawed way of working on nearly all major government IT contracts and it explains why they fail routinely.

Extraordinary?

It’s extraordinary – and not extraordinary at all – that the two people accountable to Parliament for the £9.3bn Emergency Services Network were not shown a review report that would have provided an early warning the project was in serious trouble.

Now it’s possible, perhaps even likely, the Emergency Services Network will end up being added to the long list of failures of government IT-based programmes over the last 30 years.

Every project on that list has two things in common: Whitehall’s obsession with good news and the simultaneous suppression of all review reports that could sully the good news picture.

But you cannot run a big IT-based project successfully unless you discuss problems openly. IT projects are about solving problems. If you cannot admit that problems exist you cannot solve them.

When officials keep the problems to themselves, they ensure that ministers can be told all is well. Hence, ministers kept telling Parliament all was well with the £10bn National Programme for IT in the NHS  – until the scheme was eventually dismantled in 2011.

Parliament, the media and the public usually discover the truth only when a project is cancelled, ends up in the High Court or is the subject of a National Audit Office report.

With creative flair, senior civil servants will give Parliament, the National Audit Office and information tribunals a host of reasons why review reports on major projects must be kept confidential.

But they know it’s nonsense. The truth is that civil servants want their good news stories to remain uncontradicted by the disclosure of any internal review reports.

Take the smart meters roll-out. Internal review reports are being kept secret while officials give ministers and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy the good news only. Thus, the latest Whitehall report on smart meters says,

“Millions of households and small businesses have made the smart choice to get a smart meter with over 12.8 million1 operating in smart mode across Great Britain. This world leading roll out puts consumers firmly in control of their energy use and will bring an end to estimated bills.”

Nothing is said about millions of homes having had “smart” meters installed that are neither smart nor compatible for the second generation of smart meters which have a set of problems of their own.

The answer?

For more than 30 years the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have published seemingly unique reports that each highlight a different set of problems. But nobody joins the dots.

Sir Arnold, the Cabinet Secretary said in “Yes Minister“, that open government is a contradiction in terms. “You can be open, or you can have government.

This is more than a line in a TV satire.  It is applied thinking in every layer of the top echelons of civil service.

Collective responsibility means civil servants have little to fear from programme failures. But they care about departmental embarrassment. If reviews into the progress or otherwise of IT-enabled programmes are published, civil servants are likely to be motivated to avoid repeating obvious mistakes of the past. They may be motivated to join the dots.

But continue to keep the review reports secret and new sets of civil servants will, unknowingly each time, treat every project as unique. They will repeat the same mistakes of old and be surprised every time the project collapses.

That the civil service will never allow review reports of IT programmes to be published routinely is a given. If the reports were released, their disclosure of problems and risks could undermine the good news stories ministers, supported by the civil service, want to feel free to publish.

For it’s a Whitehall convention that the civil service will support ministerial statements whether they are accurate or not, balanced or not.

Therefore, with review reports being kept secret and the obsession with good news being wholly supported by the civil service, government’s reputation for delivering successful IT-based programmes is likely to remain tarnished.

And taxpayers, no doubt, will continue to lose billions of pounds on failed schemes.  All because governments and the civil service cannot bring themselves to give Parliament and the media – or even those in charge of multi-billion pound programmes –  the other side of the story.

Home Office’s “unhealthy good news culture” blamed for Emergency Services Network Delays – Civil Service World

Emergency Services Network is an emergency now – The Register

Home Office not on top of emergency services programme – Public Accounts Committee report, July 2019

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Home Office’s IT Director McDonagh to take over Chant role at G-Cloud

By David Bicknell

Denise McDonagh, currently director of IT at the Home Office, is to take over responsibility for G-Cloud from Chris Chant who leaves at the end of the month.

In this announcement, as well as discussing McDonagh’s role as Chant’s replacement on G-Cloud, the government said that it is on track to launch the next iteration of the G-Cloud framework in late or early May.  It will incorporate a new approach that incorporates the ability to add new suppliers and services on a quarterly (or possibly more frequent) basis.  It suggests that this will be a procurement first in the UK, and possibly even in the world.  Existing G-Cloud suppliers should be able to move to the new framework with just a small amount of effort, it says. A series of new deals on the framework is also set  to be to announced.

Prior to the announcement of his departure, Chant had written a blog post that argued that unnacceptable IT is pervasive.

He suggested that:

“Real progress has been blocked by many things including an absence of capability in both departments and their suppliers, by a strong resistance to change, by the perverse incentives of contracts that mean its cheaper to pay service credits than to fix the problem and by an unwillingness to embrace the potential of newer and smaller players to offer status quo-busting ideas.

“CIOs across government, including me in various roles at the centre of government, have been guilty for too long of taking the easy path.  We have done the unacceptable and thought we were doing a great job.  We have:

  • Signed contracts with single suppliers that have led to both poor service and high costs, because that is the way government did things
  • Failed to let in innovative suppliers because of the constraints of those large contracts, because new suppliers, we figured, brought risk and uncertainty
  • Designed and delivered solutions that look, in today’s world, ridiculously expensive and over-engineered because we thought that was the right thing to do
  • Allowed our users to suffer with IT that is a decade – or more – behind what they are using at home because the security considerations for government are different and stricter from those for everyone else”

But, over the last 18 months, working on G-Cloud as well as the immediate forerunner of the Government Digital Service, Chant said he had seen the real signs of change, with some in the public sector no longer willing to put up with the poor service and delivery that they have experienced and they are actively looking for new ways of working. Notably, he suggested, big departments openly talk about wanting to get away from the traditional model of big, cumbersome IT and are serious.

Now, he went on, things get harder, notably:

Managing Multiple Suppliers

  • Departments are no longer going to have an easy ride as they seek to extend an existing contract or renew what they have now (a large single supplier monopoly over their IT).   They’re going to be pushed to break up contracts into smaller pieces, contract with or involve more SMEs and reuse what is already in place elsewhere.    There is no better place to start than by getting something you already have, or something that you need to have, from the G-Cloud framework. CIOs will need to increase the capability of their teams – and their own capability too – otherwise they will find that they are no longer playing a part in this new approach.  Some CIOs and some teams will not be able to make that transition.

Apples With Apples

  • For years, obtaining data about what government pays for IT and, worse, what it gets for that money has been mission impossible.  With transparency, increasing use of frameworks and smaller contracts, it will be easier than it has ever been to compare like for like costs across departments. CIOs will want to get ahead of that curve now and find out what their IT is truly costing them so that they can compare what new market offers really provide and whether it is worth making an early switch – and the pressure to make that switch before the end of the contract is only likely to increase as the true size of cost reductions becomes evident.

Digital By Default

  • The need to design services around the customer will become pervasive -whether that customer is a citizen in front of a web browser at home or one of our own staff working in an office.  The shift to “digital by default” (rather than “digital as well”) is fundamental and will cause a wholesale upheaval in organisations across government.   People who thought they were in charge of delivering transactions probably won’t be. People who are on the inside of government might find themselves moved to the outside and entirely new product offers will come about as a result.

IT in government has certainly come a long way, he insisted, but added that “..it just hasn’t come far enough.  It remains unacceptable.  The trends of the last couple of years – transparency, open data, open services, SMEs – aren’t going away; if anything, they will go stronger and bed in deeper.”

What needs to happen next, Chant said, is that:

  • CIOs across government need to recognise what has changed and stop hiding behind the comfort blanket of what has always been done before. That blanket is on fire.
  • Big suppliers should see the smoke from that comfort blanket and recognise that the world of government IT has changed.  They can no longer rely on delivering poor service for big money and get away with it.  The customer approach is changing and they will need to change too, or be consumed by the flames.
  • SMEs should embrace the opportunity they now have and bring their capabilities – speed, flexibility and low prices – to the government market.  For the first time, government is ready.

(My Campaign4Change colleague Tony Collins is currently away, but will be back shortly)

G-Cloud chief Chris Chant to retire

Siemens given extra £265m on passport contract

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

This was Damian Green’s reply to a question by SNP MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford.

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.

Link:

MP asks NAO to consider an inquiry after our article on the Siemens passport contract.