UK Government still cheerfully messing up this computer stuff

In the one, we have a very damning attack on, and let’s pinch ourselves to make sure we really are reading this in 2011 and not any one of the last 15 years, the way HMRC let its outsourcer manage a critical software project, the one that, you know, only collects all the tax you pay out of your wage packet.

And in the second; our very own Public Spending Terminator, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, ‘fessed up to the House of Commons that no-one in Whitehall collates all the data on what central government spends on ICT.

The taxman first. Well, it’s all so depressing and familiar, isn’t it? The Public Accounts Committee says HMRC failed in its duty to provide a proper computer system to work out how much Pay As You Earn taxpayers should be paying.

The problem centres on dirty data, as the system wasn’t real time, wasn’t accurate, and thus ended up knowing for a year that as many as seven million people had either overpaid or underpaid their tax bills but didn’t do anything about it.

Net result; at a time of critical public debt, £1.4bn didn’t get paid to the Exchequer to pay off the national credit card bill and (we think) £3bn had been overpaid and will need to be refunded to punters.

The PAC was also pretty brutal about its CIO man-management practices. It wants to know – and so should we, to be honest – why HMRC re-employed its acting CIO Deepak Singh on a three-month contract on the equivalent of £600,000 a year "after he had been unsuccessful in the competition for the permanent post."

This dude also trousered £150,000 to stay on for three months and he also received £19,200 in "outplacement services" to help him get another job. The committee makes the not unreasonable recommendation that the Revenue make more of an effort to replace senior staff, especially when their leaving dates are known well in advance.

If the man from the Ministry is expected to know that, then why doesn’t he know how much his ‘firm’ is spending on ICT? In answer to an MP’s question, the Terminator read from his natural language database the reply, "We [the government] don’t collect total spend on IT."

Blimey. Then how is he so confident his moratorium on IT projects and general cut backs will have the impact he desires? Maude pooh-poohed such lack of faith, telling the House, "As an early indication of the size of savings accruing from the ICT Project Review process, departments reported the curtailment of 229 projects to gross a compound value of £1bn."

He is also confident that "substantial savings" will arise from IT procurement policies introduced by his government, and that "Department accounts, published at the year end, will provide a fuller indication of the impact of these policies on department expenditure."

So let’s see if we have all this right. On the one hand one of our biggest and most important Ministries let one of the core revenue systems the nation has grind into the mud and lost us all money.

And on the other, there’s no one version of the truth as to how much the ship of state actually spends on computers and information technology (hint; someone, maybe the new government CIO Joe Harley, say, get out his abacus and add up all the Department line items, and if he can’t find any, shout and scream until they are supplied PDQ?).

If we didn’t know better, we’d say we lived in a joke country that deserves what it gets from rip-off suppliers.

Thank goodness we don’t, eh, readers?

Type: White Paper


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