back to article Is the IT gravy train heading for the buffers?

Some of the world’s biggest and best known purveyors of IT services to the UK government could soon be feeling rather sickly, as IT contracts totalling several billion pounds may well be up for review within the next 12 to 18 months. A source of considerable revenue for the likes of EDS, Cap Gemini and PA Consulting – the usual …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    " is likely that suppliers who are flexible when it comes to ending contracts will be viewed far more favourably than those who insist on the letter of the contract."

    Will it buggery. £ wins every time on government bids. Trust me, I know.

  2. John Miles

    They should investigate the competence of suppliers

    Then there would be very simple get outs ;)

    and if the company complains - look at whether legal measures to recoup based costs on their dodgy deliveries in past

  3. Mike Smith
    Dead Vulture

    If they do have sour faces...

    .. then they've only got themselves to blame. Not one iota of sympathy from me, that's for sure.

    All the occupants of First Class seats on the gravy train are big companies. They should be very well aware of the likelihood of Labour being kicked out at the next election, and should have plans in place to deal with it if they're at risk of their contracts being canned. If they're not, and they don't, then they can't be regarded as anything other than complete morons.

    It's essentially an exercise in risk exposure, and if they can't even do that properly then they're doomed, and serve them right. Sadly though, the real losers, as ever, will be the poor sods at the coal face who have to meekly follow the complacent, the blind and the stupid, even where they're heading straight into oblivion.

    Gravestone, because that's where strategists who can't strategise deserve to go.

  4. Paul Murphy

    >New Labour’s vision of a 1000-year rule


    Would any UK-ID card have spaces for little logos so that people can tell what sort of person you are?

    You know the sort of thing, homosexual, Jewish, disabled etc.. might come in handy for the 'discussion' camps that people would be sent to so that they can talk about common subjects with their peers, whilst doing useful community service.

    My own personal opinion of course but UK-ID cards are a BAD idea, and should not be allowed.

    Never mind WWJD, how about WWHD? - can't claim copyright on that unfortunately ( sigh...


    oh - Godwins!

  5. David Hicks

    The only problem is....

    ... that I can see this bunch of ******** hanging on to power until the last possible moment they can, regardless of the benefit/detriment to the country such a policy will bring.

    They know they're toast, so they'll force through as much of this nonsense as they can before being booted out unceremoniously.

    I'm no great fan of tories, but anyone that plans to sweep aside a lot of these draconian, police-statisms AND cut government waste in one fell swoop, well, they're ok with me.

  6. Mike Crawshaw


    "Under Labour, what the police have asked for they have often received."

    Except for a pay rise in line with the agreements previously made, of course....

  7. Mike Groombridge

    don't worry

    I'm sure that they have they own mad ideas about IT projects is the tories get in

    seeing what they have done so far to get dave "down wid dda kids"

    i'm waiting for Facegov think political face book but in stead of groups about football and pokes etc . It'll be what do you think are policy should be vote now ( we don't know ourselves we just made some vague promises and got in now we don't know what to do) .

    as they say the more things change the more they stay the same.

  8. Optymystic
    Thumb Down


    "Of course, government does not have to honour contracts at all. First, because no government can abolutely bind a successor government to a particular policy: second, because they can always pass a law making the existing contract illegal. In practice, there are likely to be some very interesting negotiations in the early days of a new administration."

    This must be a candidate for the biggest load of tripe ever to appear on these illustrious pages

    No, it is not so and obviously. A policy is not a contract, changing a policy is not a justification for voiding a contract; passing a law to make a contract illegal is likely itself to be contrary to law and before you ask, yes, there are hierarchies of laws and rules about what is legal, there are constraints on the powers of parliaments, there are structures for challenge to law makers on, natural law, human rights, constitutionality etc.

    Passing a law to make an existing contract illegal would be challenged as retrospective legislation i.e. trying to use the law to change the past. More importantly the doctrine of the contract freely negotiated between two independent and unconstrained parties is so fundamental to commercial law and employment law that undermining it would be highly problematic.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    not the satsumas

    The higher levels of the central civil service became corrupt years ago - its the mandarins who push for these systems by misleading naive ministers who think they understand what they're doing and why. This will not change,

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Re. Deluded

    "£ wins every time on government bids. Trust me, I know."

    Thats the view in industry but not actual reality. In fact, £ doesn't feature heavily in most bids is the current view on the inside, its generally focused around 'Quality' (which we pay for, but don't get). Trust me, I know...

  11. dave

    Sleaze angel overlooked

    How many of these big company's with Fat IT contracts made labour donations pre 97?

    I would guess about 100%....

    And have they made any donations to the conservatives? Because that will tell you who is getting their contracts renewed.

    Can't stop the sleaze!


    *need an Evil Tony and Evil Brown icon!

  12. Simon B

    Run and hide

    Run and hide, heaven help us!

  13. Nigel Thomas
    Black Helicopters

    Why are there no comments on page 2?

    How come the comments are visible from page 1 but not from page 2, eh? Time to fix your fora...

  14. Luther Blissett

    Grunt - squeal - grunt

    No particular reason for a future Gov to fear spanking the pigopolists. They will squeal a lot, for sure, but as soon as feeding time next comes around, they will be racing to the trough, jowls slapping, nipping each others tails, and barging about messily in the predictable manner to get the gravy. The marvel is the size of the trough.

    As nu labour must surely understand the concept of opportunity cost, what it does must reflect what its values truly are.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    How many...

    ...government departments are seriously going to want to change their IT suppliers in the run up to the Olympics? There would never be a pain-free transition, no matter what the promises to the contrary were.

    Especially if you're talking Home Office security / immigration departments, police...

  16. Mike Smith


    IANAL, but as we have sadly seen since 1997, a government can do what it bloody well likes if it's got a big enough majority. And there's always the good old Parliament Act to over-ride the Lords if they won't STFU and toe the party line.

    "There are constraints to the powers of parliaments" - true, but parliament can remove these constraints if it wishes to. It certainly would not be easy or quick, but it could be done. For instance, there is nothing to stop a government with a big enough majority passing a series of Acts to revoke the European Declaration of Human Rights, leaving the EU if need be, and reintroduce capital punishment by breaking on the wheel for murder, rape, drug smuggling and walking on the cracks in the pavement. Nothing, that is, apart from the Queen's wee note giving Royal Assent. And if she refused that, it could even go as far as civil war.

    Now, I'm not suggesting for one moment that that is a possibility. But it could happen in theory. When we elect a government, we literally give them power of life and death over us.

  17. Colin Millar

    Complete garbage

    Optymystic you beat me to it.

    I was reading this article with an increasing sense of disbelief and the bit about changing the law to get out of the contract - well - gobsmacking. As for consulting with the opposition to ensure a smooth transition? Yes - once the election has actually been announced - not when some journos start speculating on a possible date.

    This really was just making up some crap to hang a doom and gloom story off. Please stop.

  18. David Hicks

    Actually,if they are tied in to the contracts -

    The rate the pound is declining, which will accelerate massively when they start "quantitative easing", the billions they owe these companies won't actually be worth much anyway.

  19. Adair Silver badge

    re: Deluded

    I took 'suppliers who are flexible' to mean 'giving up jam now in order to receive jam later', but maybe I'm deluded.

  20. Guy Herbert

    @ Optymystic

    "No, it is not so and obviously. A policy is not a contract, changing a policy is not a justification for voiding a contract;"

    Absolutely. Though it could be motivation for finding grounds to do so.

    "... passing a law to make a contract illegal is likely itself to be contrary to law and before you ask, yes, there are hierarchies of laws and rules about what is legal, there are constraints on the powers of parliaments, there are structures for challenge to law makers on, natural law, human rights, constitutionality etc."

    Utter drivel. Parliament is supreme. It has several times passed retrospective legislation (notably the Act of 2001 retrospectively legalising arbitrary retention of DNA samples by police), and is not bound by natural law, human rights, or anything but its own malleable procedures. Roughly half of all legislation is interefering in freedom of contract in some way - and that includes ALL of employment law - so your final paragraph is bollocks, too.

  21. Gulfie

    Plus ca change

    One thing you can be certain that will remain unchanged between administrations... the civil servants will work hard to ensure that their numbers are not reduced, even if it means sabotaging the IT projects of their masters. Any project that increases administrative complexity will be welcomed, and anything designed to simplify or reduce the head count will be resisted.

  22. Ian


    "If they are too harsh on existing suppliers, then they will find it very hard to purchase IT in future."

    Hahaha, good one. You really think these companies would throw away the chance for another gov. IT contract even if they screwed them? Even if they did there's a billion other companies out there waiting to make millions of pounds by filling the void that would be left.

    If anything it'd be a good thing, injecting some fresh will into govt. IT projects rather than having the same old few companies screwing the tax payers by charging millions of pounds for systems that only need a few hundred thousand to implement in reality.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    About bloody time!

    These contracting companies take the mickey... David Craig already wrote about this 4 years ago in "Plundering the Public Sector".

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Er, no.

    Even if the Tory Govt. try and break every law of contract going, they'll still need consultants to come in and sort out the ensuing mess. It's not like the Civil Service are capable of doing this themselves...

  25. RichardB

    Tax them into oblivion

    Just slap massive windfall taxes on any company thats made - oh say more than 100 mil from contracts signed by labour ministers in the last 10 years.

    Should sort it.

  26. TeeCee Gold badge
    Thumb Down

    Oooooo! The fail, the fail.

    Here's how it really works. Incoming government looks at big high-cost projects. Decides they're NFG and cans 'em. Once feet are under table, dreams up new exciting "initiatives" that require, er, big high-cost projects to implement.

    Big consultancies declare record profits from providing services in winding up projects in category A and kicking off projects in category B.

    Oh, and the reason that the Home Office behaves like that is that they're Civil Servants (hah!). The change in the colour of the minister's tie doesn't affect the day-to-day running of the place.

    "The gravy train will be leaving from platform two and not platform one as previously announced."

  27. Ben Boyle

    "plays to the public fears..."

    "plays to the MEDIA DRIVEN public fears whipped up by the incumbent government to justfy orwellian data retention"

    There, fixed that for ya!

  28. Mark

    re: Contracts

    However, you can only sue the government with the consent OF the government.

    Much like suing a solicitor or judge. You need another solicitor AND a judge to make it happen. So it doesn't.

    And the NHS IT project should ALWAYS have only been to find a document format for data interchange and NOTHING ELSE. When the documents *are* interchangable, work on making the software interchangable. When the software is interchangable, work on the procedures to enable automatic exchange of documents.

    Not the whole frigging thing at one time.

  29. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

    @Sleaze angel overlooked

    Thanks. Now I have an image of Mandelson with large feathery wings in my head for some reason. Yuck!

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Glad these vampires

    will get screwed considering the ripoffs they have done to the British taxpayers over the years with projects finished late, massively over budget and the like.

    Lets hope new contracts will actually match public sector ones with PENALTIES for non completion etc and not just be a gravy train for incompetents like EDS who have proved themselves tine ame time again to not be able to actually deliver what they are (over)paid for..

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Cash Cow Runs Dry

    About time. We've just renewed a contract for over 3m squidlies for 12 months. I am currently typing up instructions telling our 'managed' services what to do, because they don't know how. And to top it off I will be outsourced by mid this year.

    paris, beacuse she's rich and (allegedly) sucks to.

  32. John Ozimek

    Retrospective legislation

    Actually, this question of retrospective legislation is one that exercised me a lot in writing the piece and one on which I sought (several) opinions from government and individual lawyers. There wasn't a single straight answer - there rarely is - but the consensus most definitely was that government COULD tear up contracts if it so wished - but to do so might not be the ideal way of negotiating.

    Far more powerful might be: we've got a £100 billion IT budget for this parliament and if you want any of it, you'd better play nice now.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    I would like the next Governent to...


    Thats all. Go into the fancy house and talk. Discuss policies and politic. Have a cup of tea or a branky or two. Talk with your collegues, talk with the enemy (those in the same party), talk with the staff (house and bar).

    If you just do this I would be happy for you to give yourselves a 15% pay rise. No, wait have 30%. And I would be happy to sign off your expense claims.

    PROVIDED you fscking well leave the rest of us alone! NO "BRiGHT IDEAS!" No "NEW WAY FORWARD (tm)!" Just go into parliament and talk. Spend four years talking, no, have 12 years talking and we'll give all of you medals andccall you the best Governent ever.

    Just don't make any more stupid laws! We have more than enough already.

  34. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    @Guy Herbert

    "Utter drivel. Parliament is supreme."

    In practice, possibly. Liz's dismissal of the Australian government in the mid-70s was quite controversial and unlikely to be repeated, although attempts to abolish contract law as suggested here might provide an interesting test. In theory, however, Parliament is certainly not supreme, however much it might huff and puff on the subject.

    Parliament's authority in this country stems from the fact they they won the civil war. (Effectively they have "right of conquest", just like the Normans.) However, the war flared up again in the 1680s and William of Orange "invaded" to help parliament retain the upper hand. OK he was let in, but once in he had a bloody great army and he had to be listened to as a partner in victory. The Bill of Rights is the division of sovereignty that followed, and it contains compromises on both sides.

    For just one example, the Bill of Rights clearly binds later Parliaments to the extent that an Act can only override the rights in that treaty if the Act explicitly says that is its intent. Most Acts don't, precisely because it is such a big deal when they do.

  35. David Hicks
    Black Helicopters

    @ Chatty AC

    that's a fantastic idea. A government that does absolutely nothing would be great. It's one of the reasons I like the idea of coalition governments and proportional representation - It suddenly becomes very hard for the government to get anything done. Which is perfect.

    Failing that, I think we should have a rule that they ought to spend as much time reviewing and repealing old laws as they do making new ones. At least then we could get archaic nonsense like obscenity and heresy laws off the books... unless of course Wacky Jaqui manages to get them back on.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No potential conflict of interest

    "Arresting an Opposition front bench spokesman shortly before a change of administration is definitely unpolitic, and guaranteed to neither win friends nor influence people."

    -- It may not win friends, but it might well influence a few people ...

    Also, I wonder if it would be possible to find statistics for the number of senior civil servants in IT-related projects who become consultants/directors/whatever at the big IT companies on retirement (at 55-ish) from the Civil Service. Do you think the possibility of a lucrative contract post retirement could maybe influence the way said senior civil servants behave in negotiations with the big IT boys?

  37. EdwardP

    If seems too good to be true...

    ...then it probably is.

    Perhaps this is the light at the end of the tunnel, the one we've all been waiting for. Let's hope it isn't a train...

  38. Lol Whibley
    Dead Vulture


    This to me sounded like the broke Politicos drumming up funds to fuel the impending take-over bid by way of talking up the funding futures market. It's all about scaring the incumbent international multi-billion corporations into pushing some non-accountable pork in the direction of the likely Managment-to-come.

    Knighthoods? meh! Years of corporate funding and the qualitative values this capitalist monetarist global society demands in it's year-onyear growth forcasts... now that's more to their liking. They need the confidence of the markets, we've all had a set of clear examples of what happens when the bottle goes around a company's finances.

    Nowt changes. This isn't news and reporting it as such is furthering the game as it stands. Nothing vested in that interest is there.. as for the quality of the overall article, as has been pointed by many others... Fail.

  39. Brian Whittle

    Daily Mail

    The Title of this Article is very Daily Mail, has the reg been gone to the dark side ?

  40. Maverick
    Dead Vulture

    @ don't worry By Mike Groombridge

    > as they say the more things change the more they stay the same.

    to be correct "Le plus ca change le plus ca le meme chose" - reads better I think?



    please god this means we are rid of this bunch of parasitic muppets !


    GOD help us all ! ! !

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UK Gov IT is awful

    have you seen their websites, just broken messes, it looks like a five year old has been let loose with frontpage.

    What we need is a better network, more security, more knowledge repositories, and tie it to the country for access, stop with this bizarre let's give the crown jewels away. The net can be local.

    People don't want database of information held on them, if anything the net has proven people prefer multiple identities, all we want is the ability to transact securely and that is not helped by centralised databases.

    This government in particular has shown just what a dystopia is, and that is government for government sake, we are in the movie Brazil, we are the frogs boiled alive.

    Government should be for the people, and so far Labour has done nothing apart from cause a huge economic collapse. Scotland is going to devolve, and whilst it maybe amusing to say told you so, it cannot be forgotten that we have had two scots in the PM role, no one can be as incompetent as those two without a hidden agenda.

  42. druck Silver badge

    Bugger the cost

    No matter what the cost of any termination clauses, even if they matched the projected cost of completion, it would be worth breaking these contracts. The ID Card/NIR and communications database fundamentally change the character of this nation for the worse, and have no place in a a free and democratic Britiain.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "...there are hierarchies of laws and rules about what is legal, there are constraints on the powers of parliaments, there are structures for challenge to law makers on, natural law, human rights, constitutionality etc."

    When I learned about these matters at school, the classic quotation was from Jean-Louis de Lolme's textbook "The Constitution of England", published in 1775. He stated flatly that Parliament can do anything except make a man into a woman and a woman into a man. Nowadays, of course, advances in medical technology have gone a long way towards removing this limitation.

    Whether the case has been changed fundamentally by the various European entanglements that successive governments have got us into, I couldn't say for sure. Could Gulliver be tied down indefinitely by the Lilliputians' tiny ropes? If I were a Lilliputian, I wouldn't like to bet on it.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And another thing...

    The job cuts that HP is forcing on EDS are so severe that projects that are underway are becoming impossible to deliver. Apparently the person running HP doesn't care at all what happens to the customer, his bonus just comes from cutting costs.

  45. Richard Gadsden


    "...there are hierarchies of laws and rules about what is legal, there are constraints on the powers of parliaments, there are structures for challenge to law makers on, natural law, human rights, constitutionality etc."

    No, there really aren't. Actually, of course, there's no need to breach contract law - just introduce a 100% windfall tax on revenues from these contracts. But if Government wants to ride roughshod over the law of contract then it can; might have to leave the EU and the WTO to do it; might face sanctions from the rest of the world, but the Crown-in-Parliament is sovereign and can do anything it likes.

    Short of a revolution or military invasion from the outside, of course!

    Getting back to the point, in practice, what any new goverment should do is to establish a proper in-house IT operation, refuse to do any big projects for ten years and build up the capacity of the in-house IT so that in ten years' time you can deliver on some of these big projects (the ones that aren't a total waste of time) without needing the consultancies.

    Large-scale public-sector IT is different in kind from private-sector IT, and the UK government should recognise this and build up a proper in-house operation, since none of the externals can deliver. Of course, this probably means creating an entire Department from scratch, and I wonder if the Civil Service would settle for having a Permanent Secretary who could write code. Imagine having someone who knew what they were talking about! That would never do!

    If you want a big IT project that would really help a lot of people, try integrating the tax and benefits systems into a single one where you tell it how much your earning and your other circumstances (married, living together, kids, child-care costs, housing, etc) and it then did a single calculation to either demand taxes or pay out benefits. Would make everyone's lives a hell of a lot easier, by only having to hand over one set of information to one office, rather than ten different sets to ten different sets of people who then adjust how much you get of benefit A depending on how much you were awarded of benefit B, and then the benefit B people cut that because you got benefit A awarded, so the benefit A people put their amount up to compensate and then you have to pay taxes on your benefits, and then benefit B is increased so you can pay your taxes, but that cuts benefit A and this is about the point that you realise you're a character in a Kafka novel.

  46. ElFatbob

    sick of this government

    - sick of the lying, cheating, self-serving thieves that are in power

    - sick of them spending collosal sums of money with their IT chums on shit projects

    - sick of their totalitarian removal of civil rights

    - sick of their capitulation to hard-lobbying minority/special interest groups

    - sick of the unchecked and unmonitored immigration

    - sick of the way serious criminals receive laughable sentences

    Roll on the next general election. We deserve everything we get if we vote these cretins in again.

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