back to article Millions wasted on IT: PAC chair parting shot

The outgoing chair of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee has criticised government IT spending in an open letter to his successor. In the letter, Edward Leigh said that departmental IT projects are "over-ambitious, overly complex and fail to deliver what is promised while costs rocket". He also set out 10 lessons on …


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  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    If Sir Humphrey does not care

    WTF should *anyone* else.

    Like to see the 10 point list, but the key points have been made before.

    Again and again and again.

    I guess senior civil servants don't read anything much that their bosses (MP's and Ministers) read.

    Good points. Time will till if they still don't give a f$%k.

  2. dave 151
    Thumb Down


    shame our hero didn't see fit to comment when he was in a position to embarrass the Gov into fixing the shambles that is Gov IT. He's just making himself look tough ready for his next job interview.

    1. gerryg

      You must be new here

      Edward Leigh has been a persistent critic of Government IT since forever: try searching this site, the NAO or PAC reports.

      Select Committees, alas are not government bodies, so while they can investigate, report, rant and rave, what they can't do is cause change.

      That's the real pity.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    He's not wrong

    The procurers rarely specify what they want sufficiently clearly or definitely. They change the scope on a regular basis. Net result the contractors are trying to hit a moving target and ratcheting the costs as they have to effectively restart the project multiple times.

    The contractors rarely understand what is being asked and for some reason are unwilling to be seen asking extra questions in the bidding process. Their sales departments then produce offers based on undeliverable timelines because anything they don't understand is deemed to be deliverable within an hour. They doom themselves from the start.

    I've seen this from both sides several times. It's sad how often it happens.

  4. Graham Marsden

    "departments have not always shown themselves to be intelligent clients..."

    "...and sometimes show "a lack of capacity to engage effectively with suppliers"

    In other news: (Bears, woods, Popes...)

    The problem is that Politicians generally have damn all experience of the business world (apart from being bought expensive lunches on private yachts...) and consequently get taken for a ride by companies who see Government contracts as a cash cow because the requirements are unclear at the start and then repeatedly change according to what is flavour of the month.

    This has been seen time and time again with billions of pounds of public money being pissed away on useless or ill-designed projects, yet still nothing is done to fix the underlying problem.

  5. zxcvbnm

    Rather a relief

    Thank god for that. I was afraid it was billions.

  6. Inachu

    These studies are worthless.

    By the time the studies are done for each company they would have spen over $100,000 in payments when that $100,00 could have gone towards a new switch for that very old 10 half speed switch used out in shipping instead only the VIP sectiono f the company gets the best switches for the best connectivity and leaves the rest of the company out in the cold.

    No research needed.

    just mark the old switch first. Install with new 10/100/1000 speed switches.

    Make sure your network is all CAT6 compatible then work on your servers PD,BD and so forth.

    First step to saving is cut out these middle managers and just let the geeks get it done.

  7. Gary F

    Why wait?

    Why do people who have the power to improve things only speak out as they leave their job? He should have spoken up years ago and perhaps a few £million here or there could have been saved and some projects could have been delivered sooner and been more fit for purpose.

    1. gerryg

      Why do people...

      ...not check their facts before criticising a persistent critic of Government failures in IT (and elsewhere). Try searching or indeed Public Accounts Committee reports.

  8. Shadowmanx2009

    Government IT Failure

    Costs the country billions! They should stick to whatever government do such as, er well erm, ok just whatever they do then! Leave the IT stuff to people who *know* what they're doing (and no I don't mean EDS)!

    Once upon a time we actually had our own IT companies, where are they? Also, why not teach *proper* IT in schools, such as how to program and why planning/analysis & structure are so important. From what I see of *lessons* in schools, we're essentially turning out Office Drones.

    This must stop! We're wasting our kids time teaching this stuff when we should be encouraging them to think. Plus, we should be using/encouraging uk companies and not giving US corps all the *taxpayers* money in the form of licensing and fees.

    Don't suppose they'll listen though :(!

  9. Anonymous Coward

    "track record of delivering ... has not been exemplary"

    Tee Hee.

    What on earth did HP want them for? It should have been more than obvious that the EDS/corporate schmoozing couldn't go on for ever, and that once the schmoozing stopped, EDS would never win much business on the basis of price or on ability to deliver a quality product.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "What on earth did HP want them for? "

      Simple. Their ability to shmooze with the people who *matter*, senior civil servants (who want a retirement non-exec directors job) and soon-to-be-ex ministers looking for a start in the "lobbying" business. Thus ensuring that the substantial up front bidding costs will get recouped despite any knowledgeable in-house expert saying that your proposal is a bag of S%^t and will *never* meet the schedule and budget date because of how many points have been missed out of the detailed spec (which as an in house expert they know).

      Con-tractors don't *care* what points have been missed out. Why *should* they.

      AFAIK HMG rarely puts in any *meaningful* penalty clauses. Contrast that with the Sky CRM fiasco (another EDS project).

      A badly developed functional spec -> *lots* more (chargeable) change requests. CSA system ring any bells?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Ah well, numptiz rool agayn?

    Lions managed by donkeys with elected members hoping for the best because managers got what they asked for and did something wholesomely different with much, much, much more lining of managers pockets and poor, poor, poor return of services?

    It is, after all, the UK dood!

  11. Neoc

    My point of view

    First, a disclosure: I work for a consulting/contracting company. No, I will not name it. But I also worked in the Public Sector for almost 10 years, so I can speak from both sides of the issue.

    And the major problem is: there are no penalties for f-ing up, but heaven help you if you are efficient.

    For example: As a project manager, you estimate that your project will need 100,000 this year. By the end of the year, you've managed to bring the project in at 90,000. Your reward? When next year you ask for 115,000 for your project the bean-counters point out that you had a history of over-estimating and will only give you 104,000 for your budget. Which is why there's a push at the end of the financial year to "use up your budget".

    Another example: Your project is behind schedule and over budget. You need more money. Guess what? The government simply gives you a slap on the wrist and finds more money for your project - because it'd be bad PR for the project to fail.

    I have also seen too many contracts go past where there were no penalty clauses in case of vendor delays or failure to produce according to the requirements - and thus more money is spent on the project for no good reason.

    The best projects I've worked on (on both sides) involved two separate contracts - an optional one to produce a set of requirements/specifications for the project and a second one to actually implement the reqs/specs *where said reqs/specs were part of the contract conditions*. (and delivery dates, penalty clauses, etc.

    It protects the contracting company ("you want what? Nope, not in the specs you included in the contract") and the client ("page234 - why haven't you delivered this?").

    YMMV, of course.

  12. veti Silver badge

    Duration, duration, duration

    Typical ministerial tenure: about 2 years.

    Typical large IT project duration: 6-10 years.

    In other words, the person responsible for starting the project has zero expectation of seeing it through to the end. And when she's replaced, her successor will want to make his own "improvements".

    The contractors, of course, know this, and they know it makes the contract basically a blank cheque. That's why they'll fight like demons to win it.

    Incidentally, the same objection applies to yesterday's Tory brainwave of outsourcing back-office IT functions. Whenever you create new channels to give public money to private companies, you get new avenues for abuse and corruption.

    Just stop it. If the data won't fit in a spreadsheet, the gov't has no business collecting it anyway. So let's run all public services using nothing but Excel. We'll save a fortune in the short run, and an even bigger fortune in the long run.

  13. RW

    @ Graham Marsden

    Quoth he: "The problem is that Politicians generally have damn all experience of the business world ... This has been seen time and time again with billions of pounds of public money being pissed away on useless or ill-designed projects, yet still nothing is done to fix the underlying problem."

    The root problem is at least one level deeper than "have damn all experience."

    What kind of person thinks that they are qualified to make decisions on matters they know nothing of? *That*, my good man, is the problem. Gordon Brown and his cronies have no hesitation dabbling in technical issues they are simply unqualified to pass judgement on. Be it the legal categorization of cannabis, the construction of a nation-wide health IT system, or legislation to curb music and movie downloading, they haven't a clue. Not one.

    Indeed, if you wonder why Britain is in such a financial mess and likely to become bankrupt any day, ask yourself, what were the Broon's qualifications to be Chancellor, the man who holds the purse strings? He probably has very little, if any, qualifications for such a powerful position.

    Vote for the candidate who says "I don't know everything."

    1. Graham Marsden


      You won't get much disagreement from me on that!

      To paraphrase Arthur C Clarke and Douglas Adams amongst others "Anyone who is capable of getting themselves elected is, ipso facto, unsuitable to hold that position"!

      Of course if they actually bothered to *listen* to the people who are qualified to advise them... (howls of derisive laughter)

  14. Anonymous Coward

    @Edward Leigh

    Please don't hold back, tell us how you really feel

  15. Jarth
    Big Brother


    Politics , as in the type that is part of human nature, and also typical yet strategical ( money money ) shortsightedness paired with complete and utter obliviousness on part of the customer is about what make big IT-projects go over budget and again and again.

    There is no cure for human shortcommings.

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge


    "I have also seen too many contracts go past where there were no penalty clauses in case of vendor delays or failure to produce according to the requirements - and thus more money is spent on the project for no good reason."

    At the end of the first decade of the 21st century I find this quiet *astonishing*.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Case in point

    Current gment IT project, estimated cost 40m at the outset, current (or last I saw) cost 120m.

    Gaps in the functional definition identified at the outset passed off with the old "we'll clear it up in the detailed design" but the detailed design never happened and the supplier has implemented based on the FD which is and always was inadequate - any objections are referred to the FD as "not in the design" and "chargeable change request".

  18. Graham Bartlett

    I love the EDS comment

    "a company whose track record of delivering government IT projects has not been exemplary"

    What a wonderfully Parliamentary way of saying "You're shit and you know you are!" Love it.

  19. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    As someone once said

    "Politics is not about who does it, but who you get to do it *to* you."*

    * I think it was Richard Condon in the Manchurian Candidate, which is actually a lot more of a political satire (with some paedophilic incestuous undercurrents) than a thriller.

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