DVLA decision threatened serious disruption at millennium, says NAO

15 Feb 01
The motorists' licensing body completed its Millennium Bug preparations only at the last minute and had no workable contingency plan if it failed to meet the deadline, according to the National Audit Office.

16 February 2001

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency intended to replace its vehicles database by October 1998 with a bespoke millennium-compliant system, developed by IT firm Electronic Data Systems. But two months beforehand, EDS admitted it would not be able to meet the completion date for the £5m, two-year phased contract and it was put back, first to March 1999, and then to August 1999.

In October 1999, the system was still not ready, but the DVLA decided to go live with it even though some elements had not been properly tested. This decision was taken in the knowledge that the agency's IT disaster recovery plan, intended to keep operations running in the event of a system failure, had not been finalised.

The DVLA's plan relied on the recruitment of 400 temporary staff, but the NAO report concluded the agency would not have been able to hire that number of people at short notice. 'At the very least, there would inevitably have been a serious disruption of customer services,' it said.

The report also highlighted problems caused by an agreement to make staged payments throughout the contract. This meant the DVLA could withhold just £200,000 – 4% of the total cost – when it became clear EDS would not meet the finish date.

'EDS was entitled to draw down further stage payments despite the project running increasingly behind the original timetable,' it said.

Comptroller and auditor general Sir John Bourn expressed his disquiet over the high-risk strategy the DVLA had adopted to meet the millennium changeover deadline. 'I am concerned at the significant delays in achieving the final implementation of this database system,' he said.

However, he acknowledged that, at the time the decision was taken, such a perilous approach was necessary. 'In doing so, they avoided the breakdown of a key customer service to both enforcement agencies and the public.'

An agency spokesman said: 'DVLA took steps throughout the project to phase in changes and to ensure there were contingencies in place for any functions that were at risk.'


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