Re: Over budget
Aspire is rare amongst government contracts in that it has almost never gone over budget which is why, despite its mammoth size as the biggest outsourcing contract almost anywhere, most people have never heard of it, or Capgemini (cf. Atos).
You've misunderstood the crux of the article. The point the NAO is making is that HMRC originally signed a c. £4bn contract, but that contract was a pure outsourcing deal. Kit and infrastructure and support. Anyone who works on Aspire today can tell you it is far more comprehensive than that. Anything technology related is run through Aspire by Capgemini, Accenture or Fujitsu. You need a SAS model produced, altered or run to answer a parliamentary question? That's going to be Capgemini. A report on who the database says has outstanding tax bills? That's going to be Capgemini. Need a PC moving from Desk 13 to Desk 14? That'll be a support ticket and a FJS bod billing an hour at his day rate, thanks.
All of these practically operational tasks were tacked onto the Aspire framework later on. It's now, at the end of its life, not just an infrastructure/support outsourcing deal, but a comprehensive purchasing and workshare agreement allowing HMRC to obtain any of the Aspire company's offerings. Actually, in many cases it outright *forces* them to go to those companies first, but the terms aren't tremendously unfair.
The reason HMRC is in such a pickle is they now have absolutely zero in-house technology capacity. From my work with them (through the Aspire contract), not a single level of their organisation, except perhaps new ex-telco CTO Mark Dearnley and their GDS guys (procured through Aspire but "owned" in house) has any level of understanding of technology, its procurement, its operation or its purpose. That's because for the last ten years everything techie has been Aspire, and before that it was EDS.
They're the object lesson in what happens when an organisation gets outsourcing happy. They no longer even have the capability to procure a replacement for Aspire.
That said, despite the contract's pitfalls, and they are many, HMRC have had a pretty good run of it. I'll first point you back to my note that almost no one outside of the IT contracting world has heard of Aspire or Capgemini, and remind you all that the Aspire contract survived the merger of the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise systems without missing a beat, has seen the transition to digital tax filings and the new digital-first strategy and have seen substantial yield improvements from application of modern analytics techniques, all through Aspire.
Meanwhile universal credit has already cost half a billion quid and has delivered precisely nowt. Three words to sum up Aspire? Could be worse.