Freesteel Blog » Look what I found looking for more info on the e-Envoy
Look what I found looking for more info on the e-Envoy
Monday, November 27th, 2006 at 1:06 am
This discussion in the Public Administration Select Committee on 24 November 2005:
Mr Collins: … There is no mechanism in the UK for transparency or accountability to Parliament on major IT schemes. I think the problem is that lessons are not always learned because lessons are not always published. For example, HMRC over the tax credit scheme had a report done by Deloittes, and the former chairman of HMRC, Sir Nick Montagu, has said there are plenty of lessons from that report. I asked HMRC yesterday for that report and they said it is confidential. That means that the lessons tend not to be learned…
For example, on the outline business case, the NHS published a 600-page document which was its outline business case for a £6 billion programme. That was confidential. Each copy was password protected. We campaigned against the confidentiality of that and published parts of it which we were given in confidence from sources that we obviously did not identify. Afterwards they published the whole document, all 600 pages of it, each marked “In Confidence” and when you look through it you cannot see any good reason why it should have been kept confidential in the first place.
Professor Dunleavy: … We are now spending 1.5% of our GDP on government IT schemes every year, which is more than the whole contribution of British agriculture to the GDP. This is a very salient issue…
Mr Liddell-Grainger: The Government set up a project called True North…. Does anybody know what it did? The Cabinet Office gave the okay to £83 million to set up a project called True North, which was to paper sleeve a deal with Government. It has gone somewhat wrong. The only reason we came across it was because the company sued the Government for £24 million, saying that they were plonkers and they did not know what they were doing… Do you think it is farcical that we have got to the stage where you cannot get papers, we cannot get papers? The Government are covering up projects that have gone wrong to the tune of £83 million —- and that has been a snip compared to some of the things they have messed up. Are we just getting to the stage where this whole thing is becoming a farce?
…It does not seem to work. You have portals everywhere; you have websites; you can go in one way, another way. How on earth we are going to have an ID card system that is going to work, if the Government itself at the highest level cannot even get a project right?
…Who should be in charge of this? Do you know what the total assets of the Cabinet Office’s computer resources are? £122 million. That is more than the asset value of all the buildings they have in Whitehall, believe it or not. We cannot find out what they are. Do you have any bright ideas? Why has the Cabinet Office got £122 million worth of computer assets? They wrote off £52 million last year in depreciation. Either there is an awful lot going on that you do not know about and I do not know about and we do not know about, or one heck of a mess has happened and we are not sure whether it has or has not. Can you shed any light? It worries me that we are going to get these ID cards at £30, £50, £100, whatever, and so far the evidence is not very good that it is actually going to work.
Mr Collins: I keep coming back to this information thing. I would rather not name the department, but my editor and I were called in to a particularly large department and asked not to write some of the things that we were writing because of a public confidence issue. Some of these departments are really struggling to cope, but the information that is given out to the public and Parliament is that things are generally okay… No one really owns up to the state of government IT and says, “These are the problems we have and this is how we are going to tackle them”. A CIO at HMRC gave a speech at a public conference earlier this year in which he talked about the problems that that department has — very serious IT-related problems. After we published the details from his speech, the Revenue issues a denial statement. I think there is a real issue with accountability and transparency.
…I think there is quite a pressure from suppliers. I have been to conferences at which suppliers are talking with civil servants with a view to possible projects. They talk about the benefits and they do sound quite compelling. I think it is very easy for departments, ministers, civil servants and suppliers to get caught up in the benefits of a project and not necessarily see how difficult it will be to implement them…
Mr Liddell-Grainger: Computer Centre, have you heard of that?
Mr Collins: Yes.
Mr Liddell-Grainger: It has been paid just under £40 million in three years from the Cabinet Office. I went through their accounts and got in touch with them and they would not admit they had even worked for the Cabinet Office. I presume Government has not just given them £40 million because they feel good about it. That is the worry, is it not, that we do not know what is going on, where this money is going in the first place and what it is being used for? When private companies are not prepared to admit to work for the Cabinet Office—
Mr Collins: I do think it is odd and people I have spoken to think it is odd, coming back to this NHS project — and I will mention it because the cost is between £6 billion and £30 billion, so it is comparable in size. The decision to go ahead with that was taken in February 2002 at a seminar attended by ministers and civil servants… and representatives of the industry. We put in an FOI Act request for details of that meeting at which this decision was taken in principle to go ahead with this very large project, and we were given absolutely nothing from it. It is an oddity, given that Congress will discuss very large commitments and investments in projects before they go ahead. It is odd that with IT projects that does not happen.
Kelvin Hopkins: We have the example of the railway industry which I sometimes touch on, where we have moved from a publicly owned system, with directly employed engineers doing a job, to a system of outside contracting services, and the costs of laying railway track have risen by four times in 10 years. Given that all these services are now provided by external contracting, by private sector companies, do they not have a vested interest in not getting it quite right first time and then coming back for a second bite and more government money?
Mr Collins: Again, it is hard to get information. There is usually quite prolific documentation in the early stages of the project about its benefits but they do not publish result implementations. There are some examples. The DWP is probably one of the biggest. They announced to Parliament that their modernisation/computerisation of benefits would cost, I think, £713 million and would save 20,000 jobs, but at the last count it was £2.6 billion and the number of staff involved had increased. There is a magistrates’ court system called Libra, which was announced as being a £140 million project. At the last count that was £390 million. But it is hard to get information on costs, because they revise contracts. The NHS is doing this at the moment and saying, “Our timetable and our costs are now out of date. We set them two years ago and we now need to ‘re-profile’ them”…
Kelvin Hopkins: Even if [the ID Card project] were to work first time, we are talking of £20 billion, £30 billion, whatever, but, given the history of disasters for these sort of schemes, and this is even bigger, is it not likely that the end result will be something that may or may not work but would cost a significant proportion of GDP to get it going at all?
Kelvin Hopkins: My final question is to reinforce the point you are making. The Oyster card is useful to the individual, to the citizen.
Professor Dunleavy: Absolutely.
Kelvin Hopkins: The ID card is useful to the state, not to the citizen.
Professor Dunleavy: Yes.
Kelvin Hopkins: I think there is a big difference. I have made my point.