27 June 2008
The former head of IT contractor Logica is to probe major public sector computer projects as part of the government's latest efficiency review, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Yvette Cooper has announced.
The appointment of Martin Read on June 23 follows a string of high-profile government IT project fiascos, including those at the Child Support Agency and the Rural Payments Agency.
Current schemes are also mired in controversy and delay, with the NHS's £12.7bn National Programme for IT suffering a fresh setback when lead contractor Fujitsu pulled out last month.
Figures revealed this week in response to a series of parliamentary questions from Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable show that computer projects at the Department for Work and Pensions are running at a total of £315m over budget and 20 years late.
Revenue and Customs' excise movement and control system has more than doubled in cost, from £19m to £44m, and the cost of the Department for Transport's shared services programme has soared from £31m to £123m, the parliamentary answers show.
Read's remit will include reviewing the public sector's £13.2bn IT spend, examining the standardisation and simplification of business processes, and looking at how IT can produce efficiency savings as well as examining major projects.
A spokesman said lessons to be learned from recent schemes included 'not being afraid to abandon a project just because it has high-level backing'. This signals that the Treasury recognises civil servants have sometimes felt unable to call a halt to struggling projects because of political pressure, a point raised repeatedly by MPs and critics.
Cooper said major IT projects could 'be a headache' but IT had also delivered substantial savings. 'That's why I want to see the public sector do much more to improve value for money in the use of it.'
But Cable warned: 'The key step which needs to be taken is political, not technical: to cut back on badly conceived, massively expensive projects like the NHS IT “spine” and the compulsory ID card.'