Scottish Government IT projects ‘late and costly’

30 Aug 12
The Scottish Government has been urged to address ‘significant weaknesses’ in public sector IT programmes after Audit Scotland revealed delays and cost overruns across three schemes.
By Richard Johnstone | 30 August 2012

The Scottish Government has been urged to address ‘significant weaknesses’ in public sector IT programmes after Audit Scotland revealed delays and cost overruns across three schemes.

In a report published today, the watchdog examined plans for new computer systems agreed between 2004 and 2009 for the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service, Disclosure Scotland and Registers of Scotland.

Auditors found the three projects, which were all eventually delayed or cancelled, had so far cost a combined £133m without ever delivering the intended benefits.

Managing ICT contracts: an audit of three public sector programmes said many problems stemmed from a lack of specialised information and communication technology skills and experience in each agency.

There were also weaknesses in basic project management and control, and the periodic Gateway Reviews, used by the Scottish Government to provide assurance on major projects, were not always effective. In the case of Registers of Scotland, there was a six-year gap between reviews, which meant opportunities to address emerging difficulties were missed.

Audit Scotland called on Holyrood ministers to consider the benefits of providing central specialised expertise, support and advice for bodies undertaking such programmes.

The government should also ‘comprehensively review’ how it oversees future projects, including examining the purpose, use and frequency of Gateway Reviews, the auditors said. In particular, it should consider whether public bodies preparing IT programmes should be required to produce better plans, similar to the Integrated Assurance and Approval Plans being developed by the Major Projects Authority in England.

Auditor general Caroline Gardner said lessons needed to be learnt as Scottish public bodies ‘invest heavily’ in IT, spending about £740m each year.

‘We found significant weaknesses in how they were planned, managed and overseen. Some of this arose from a lack of specialist skills, but there were also flaws in areas of basic project management that apply to capital works of all types,’ she said.

‘The Scottish Government needs to address these weaknesses and strengthen its strategic oversight of ICT investment to ensure the public sector delivers programmes that improve public services and provide value for money.’

The Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal wrote off £2.3m invested in the Phoenix case management system between August 2009 and November 2010 when it was cancelled due to increasing costs.

Disclosure Scotland’s agreement for a new £31m IT system, as part of the Protecting Vulnerable Groups programme, was approved in June 2009 and due to be in place May 2011. Although the system went live in February 2011, it has experienced significant problems and is now expected to be functional in autumn 2012.

Registers of Scotland’s ten-year strategic partnership agreement for several IT projects was agreed in 2004, but planned developments were late or not delivered at all. Total spending so far has risen from £66m to £102m and the agency is terminating the contract 18 months earlier than planned.

Responding to the report, a Scottish Government spokesman said that ministers had ‘already acted on lessons learned from each of these programmes’.

The cost of the Registers of Scotland system increased due to inflation and ‘new ICT development opportunities’, while Disclosure Scotland’s system would be delivered at no extra cost to taxpayers, he added.

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