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.