Elephant in the room
No mention of IR35?
There is this proverb - you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
Government IT projects are poorly thought out, often fail to achieve what they're designed to do, and are a waste of taxpayers' money. Or so the UK's National Audit Office (NAO) has said in a report that lays bare frailties and failures that are so commonplace that few tech pros are likely to be surprised. The report said the …
I think it would be more accurate to say;
You pay consultants, they get cash cows!
Particularly (as with all large government projects) if there are several opposing factions squabbling over each decision. That's manna from heaven for the large consultancies - they've had years (no decades) of experience playing factions off against each other, and keeping that gravy train rolling!
It brings a tear to my eye when I think of all the public servants and consultants involved in those disastrous projects happily enjoying their gold plated retirements!
The problem with large consultancies is that they hire a pool of perm workers for as low as they can get away with, often even bring in juniors who barely can code.
The IR35 changes mostly rid high quality independents of the market, so the government now gets expensive and poor quality work.
That maybe so but we're talking 25 years here, way before IR35 was even thought of. Government projects have been a rich source of disaster tales for decades due to an unholy mix of political hubris, Yes Minister type civil servants, and large consultancies adept at stringing failing projects along to keep the cash flowing in - got to be able to pay for those private school fees and that essential cottage in the country somehow ;))
That is true of course, but in many instances independents would have the ability to report that this and that big consultancy is taking the Mickey, and they either had to replace workers with more competent ones or risk being called off. That's why there was so much pressure to put IR35 changes in the public sector first.
If you look around who actually worked on those changes... it's stupidly obvious what's going on.
Now the big consultancies have their fox in a hen house moment.
No. The problem with consultancies is their definition of expert. It goes:
An expert is someone who knows all about the subject
unless he/she/whatever is not available then an expert is someone who knows a lot about the subject
unless he/she/whatever is not available then an expert is someone who's herd of the subject
unless he/she/whatever is not available then an expert is someone who is available.
Guess which part of the definition is the one generally supplied.
Lets not even get into the lack of real world experience for a consultant who was recruited direct from university and has only ever been in consultancy - a bit like a politician who's only ever been in politics.
I would suggest that IR35 was less of an issue than the backroom deals with IT know nothings who happened to have made party contributions.
Having worked for Crapita and witnessed years of competence levels of ~6% then it is hardly surprising that things went wrong and that it cost a lots of money since it was no accident. For every project I dealt with there were swarms of hangers on adding their costs whilst adding nothing towards completion of project goals other than to be kept informed so they could "manage" the project and add their costs. They were never interested in any technical details, dates for resources to arrive it was all " just how many billable days inclusive of waiting for stuff to arrive and site access being possible.
If I was busy then they would give the implementation to someone else who didn't have a clue either in terms of what was required or I had arrived at a particular duration. This was not exceptional it happened on every project and only once I was free to actually do the implementation would the project be completed with yet more time wasted fixing the fkups my replacement had added. Throughout all this the hanger's on just sat on their arses billing for thinking about something they had no clue about.
in terms of how to address the stupidly expensive costs of Gov IT projects the answer is simple no money up front for wages, material costing to only be paid for only after completed installation, no managerial costs until end of complete project. This would put the favoured bidders in the position of having to borrow operating costs, yes but would mean that if there is a failure it will be paid for by their insurers rather than gov and hence taxpayer. What about the private contractor/ IR35? small contractors can still bid on tenders and get paid for their hours on completion rather than period based and hence any confusion with PAYE staffers
@"After recent HMRC win, pretty much every public sector contract is going to be in scope, so this is not viable any more"
It must be said that there have been a lot of staffers pretending to be contractors and that there are a lot of agencies offering to help hide the impostors from the tax office so rather than paying to sort the wheat from the chaff they are just taxing all contractors who haven't paid the boys for tax free privilege.
It must also be said that historically any tax loop hole exploited by the rich for years that later gets used by anyone but the rich gets selectively stamped upon, IR35 is nothing new.
Given that this country has made plain that they are happy not to have self determining experts that can later prove that how badly things were managed was the reason for the failures. Clearly it is felt that the semiskilled make better workers, since they do what they are told rather than what is necessary to the work and wont get out of hand and show up their superiors as incompetents. As to the solution? it should be obvious, take your ball back and go somewhere where you will be treated with the respect due to your expertise
The UK have thrown away, sold or destroyed everything of value it once had except services and clearly have no real interest in science or engineering beyond that required cheat gullible foreign investors. Why would you still want to work here unless it is because you are only a big fish in the UK?
Face the facts they don't like you, they want those with cash in control even if it means that the cash cannot buy anything outside this country. Have you not noticed how they hanker for "the good old days" where the majority starved or died from infection whilst they raped the world, that is what they want not upperty plebs showing them up as retards.
This "a manager can manage anything" ethos that prevades the government. That and the complete disassociation "those up top" require of themselves towards anything that could be classed as "knowing something". I could witter on but that's the way it is and always be.
Politicians should be trained in anything but politics.
Learning politics teaches you how to gain and hold power. That's the last thing we want those bastards to be expert in. Better if they have some actual beliefs or ideals, then we can decide which of them we like the most.
They didn't just outsource the IT skills, they also outsourced the project management and everything else related to the business of "doing stuff". There are no in-house skills any more because someone thought it would be cheaper to just hire in skills as needed. The latest problem with that is, as someone mentioned upthread, IR35 but the underlying problem is "hiring in" cost more per hour and they know they'll be moving on so have little incentive and no loyalty. If anything, some contractors might actually see completing a job as a disincentive since they'll have to go find new contract,
Out of scope contract would have a financial incentive to complete the work on time and if you were good, new contracts would find you. But IR35 changes put a stop to that - if you had too many contracts from the same client (regardless if doing completely unrelated things), then in the tax man eye you are an employee. In scope work no longer has any incentives to do anything on time, as it basically levels independents with perms working for big consultancies.
I'd target culture rather than individuals. Civil servants are often hard working, moderately bright, focused on their customers wellbeing and have a vocational view of their jobs. Get enough of them together in a room (and I've seen rooms with over 50 to discuss a minor change) and they have a complete inability to commit to any decision.
You could also replace the first 3 words with "Enterprise IT projects".
I don't know about others but I personally have not seen an IT project that has actually lived up to its expectations, where people felt like it was really worth the trouble.
Best results, systems with minor disruptions, worst... barely functional.
But, landscapes are changing so fast, companies are damned whether they do/don't take on these projects.
"Many of the report's recommendations align with this government's strategy for making the UK the world's leading digital government, building on our recently published Declaration on Government Reform."
Even now, pub landlords, members of the Jockey Club and Party donors are setting up software boutiques.
Yes, but on the other hand they can all speak excellent Latin.
And they'll commission report after report, at whatever wasteful cost, as long as they can be sure that the conclusion is never reached that they themselves are the problem.
"...too few senior government officials armed with the experience and skills to run such schemes."
Here's a suggestion.
Instead of filling up all of the new-fangled "Non-executive directors" with friends of Johnson and the Tory party, why not draft in a few experienced IT professionals to try and bludgeon the senior Civil Servants into understanding that an IT project does not just get there by uttering the words "Let it be"?
"Non-executive directors" or NEDS. People who have lived in Scotland will know how well regarded they are.
How much are you willing to pay? Last I saw leading the customs project for Brexit was offering GBP125k which, while getting out of bed money for most jobs, is hardly worth the heartache of that one.
I should cocoa! The current incumbent in No. 10 is struggling by on around £160k + perks plus very good pension entitlements to run the country, but can't afford a nanny and home decorating costs, and even had to accept food parcels.
Not sure about Latin, but this (EU) civil servant was definitely somewhat accomplished in writing haiku
I agree and gave you an up-vote but you must realise that it is very difficult to defend the indefensible.
God knows, I despise PR people in general, but you have to feel sorry for the poor bastards having to go around polishing a turd like Johnson and his utterances, as well as the shambles masquerading as a government.
...you are the customer.
Do a shit job, charge waaaay over the odds for it, and then even more for the cost overruns, and when the project is finally scrapped schmooze a few ministers and top civil servants, and then as a preferred supplier get your wheelbarrow ready to receive the next big Government IT contract handout.
Since the government isnt much good at this we can slim the government and civil service and have them not throw our money away on such projects. And since there are often off the shelf products and services able to achieve the same thing but actually exists (and less than the final blown budget) the UK gets stuff that works, on time and costs the tax payer less.
"Isn't this outsourcing exactly the problem ?"
Not really. If there are products off the shelf why are they trying to reinvent the wheel (which as the article says they are not very good)? Government is not an efficient way to do pretty much anything so should only really be used when necessary.
"Since the government isn't much good at this"? Which one? Or did you mean government? Possibly governments.
"The UK gets stuff that works, on time and costs the tax payer less." So a government gets to decide which "off the shelf products and services" to use. Obviously no room for graft there is there? Not at all, not even a little bit. Right.
And exactly who makes the decision? Nudge, nudge. Dido.
"Which one? Or did you mean government? Possibly governments."
All of them in general everywhere.
"So a government gets to decide which "off the shelf products and services" to use. Obviously no room for graft there is there? Not at all, not even a little bit. Right."
And yet what did they do with the ankle tags? Bung money to get one 'developed' and then bought the off the shelf one. How is it our police force seems to be struggling to get a communications system in place? How much grift is in that?
"And exactly who makes the decision? Nudge, nudge. Dido."
Which is why I said "slim the government and civil service". Will less government with its fingers in less pies there are less of them to spend the money they have yet to take from us.
I wonder whether they considered the usual length of time a Secretary of State spends in office compared to the delivery time for their 'ground-breaking' new IT system delivery period.
Another issue is that when the civil servants do not understand IT, they get 'consultants' in to manage the procurement for them. And the consultants have the overriding aim of - retaining their highly paid jobs for as long as possible. Which means that the more messy it is, and the longer it all takes the more money they get paid. They seem able to run rings around the civil servants and ministers because they don't understand IT procurement.
I did work on a successful government IT procurement. Cannot say too many details, but:
The system had one specific purpose, which was very well understood and specified in detail.
The system was procured by the people who were actually going to use it - and it was not going to interface at all with 'the public'.
The system was procured from the market leaders for the type at the time, who really did know what they were doing.
The customer managed the procurement.
It was a success and although the customer was a bit concerned at the 'just in time delivery' of the main servers (they did arrive on time, but not early), it was well done all round.
It was also quite small - one purpose built system in a purpose built building.
The 'cure' for this current problem is to have top civil servants and minister who actually have personal experience of IT and understand it, rather than ones who studied Economics, PPE, Classics, Ancient and Modern History or Law. We need people with serious understanding of STEM subjects. Which will not happen for decades due to how they need to rise through the civil service or political parties because, let's face it, no one in their right mind would leave an excellently paid job in industry for the low pay of 'public service'.
I worked on such a project, so (presuming it's not such a small world that it's the same one) they do actually exist; though this is going back nearly 30 years. It was perhaps the only time in my career I encountered actually properly good project managers; again, I know they exist, but apart from that project, I mostly know only in theory that they exist.
I also remember my line manager's observation based on his encounters with assorted civil service types of varying levels of seniority: the more important they were, the more they looked like Donald Pleasence.
The test is to update a Unix Kernel using C and get it to compile and run a network of workstations as the master yp server. For a year. Including running the printer, managing backups and 'keeping the users happy'.
Curiously, Hancock's family runs a 'software business', but Matt Hancock:
"Hancock was born in Cheshire, where his family runs a software business. Hancock studied for a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Exeter College, Oxford, and an MPhil in Economics at Christ's College, Cambridge. "
Now the MPhil bit is interesting. I studied for a PhD at Leeds (mathematics) and after my first year I was lucky enough to, according to my supervisor, 'have got enough for an MPhil'. One wonders why Mr Hancock didn't go for the full doctorate.
As for Baroness Harding:
"Raised on the family pig farm in Dorset, she was educated from 1978 to 1985 at St Antony's Leweston, then an all-girl independent Catholic school. She then graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford, in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, where she studied under Vernon Bogdanor and alongside David Cameron, and then studied at Harvard Business School, gaining an MBA."
Hmm. I suppose I stand by my observation that, whatever it might've been in the past, PPE is now just general studies for rich people.
I remember doing the vaguely-named general studies as part of my GCEs on the compelling basis that "you may as well, it's an extra O-level, it'll look good on your CV", the implication being it was essentially a freebie that needed no actual effort. Whatever it was I studied, I apparently knew enough to pass but I couldn't describe a word of it today, just a vague memory that it seemed to be less educational than Trivial Pursuit.
I started my IT career as a civil servant. The projects I worked on as a civil servant were the most effective, best managed large-scale projects I ever worked on. CESA was delivered on time, under budget, with all function points working.
Then I was privatised. All of a sudden it wasn't taxpayers' money we were spending, it was the customer's money and that was were we generated profit. "Woo on the contract, rape on the service change charges". It was the same all the way through until I left to work on projects not delivering to the government. Many of my former colleagues have now been re-nationalised, albeit at arm's length. This is a good thing. The civil service was good at delivering its own systems, but bloody awful at managing those delivered by third parties.
One thing that was interesting in Covid: with the furlough program, there was no time to bring in the external consultants. So the in-house HMRC people developed it. And they did it really quickly and it worked.
I've always worked in the private sector. Yes, the big consultancies also screw companies there, but you don't normally get to hear about it.
I've worked for a quasi-Governmental body, as a contractor.
What I saw was that management would choose technology, and then hire experts in that technology, who could plainly see the wrong choice had been made but where it was of course completely impossible to communicate that fact upwards.
There is a reason for the systemic failure of government IT projects
Perhaps a discussion among el-reg regulars would reveal a couple more , but the primary cause is 'mission creep' (something us engineers suffered from when I were a civil servant in <redacted>)
What would happen in our case is that some non-technical mangler would try and keep up with us techies by spouting "wouldn't it be a good idea if such and such was implemented" after reading our prototype report.
To which our most respected team leader (science qualifications coming out of his ears) would answer "f*** off, you dont know what you are talking about, the design is fixed"(he taught me so much.. )
of course software is a different kettle of fish when outside contractors are doing it, because "sure it can be done, lets stick a varience in the contract and away we'll go, subject to the extra time taken to implement it" is the standard answer, and if delivery is in 9 months time, and you are retiring in 6 months... who cares anyway
repeat after a change in government, followed by the comittee(a great way of avoiding responsibility for cock ups)approving yet another change , and you can see why a simple job to display the time on a display in the house of commons lobby takes 5 yrs and 40 million quid.....
Government IT projects are poorly thought out, often fail to achieve what they're designed to do, and are a waste of taxpayers' money.
Government IT projects are carefully thought out, succeed to achieve what they're designed to do, and that is funneling taxpayers' money to third parties.
... most ministers having the attention span of a gnat, always wanting to make their name by some sort of 'revolution', i.e. changing or ditching everything their predecessor was doing, whilst knowing they probably won't be in post for long anyway and the next bugger will do the same to them, and certainly not interested in anything at all beyond the next election. National-scale IT development takes time to create and much longer to have an effect in society. There are no vote-friendly headlines in that.
"and certainly not interested in anything at all beyond the next election. "
And yet, here in the UK, since 1979, every party has had at least two terms in office, not always with the same PM, so they really ought to having faith in their own party and at least have tentative plans beyond the next election. But then, as you say, an individual Minister may not survive long in any particular job, but even so, whoever the Minister is should be following the general thrust of the parties plans and what is laughingly called their manifesto, not doing an about face on day 1.
I think the biggest problem is the shorter news cycle. Politicians have always felt under pressure to "do something", but back in the days of longer news cycles, it could be ridden out. Now it seems they have to respond every day to the latest headline and are terrified of not being seen "doing something".
I think I'd quite like politicians to stay out of the limelight and refuse most interviews unless there is an election coming up in the next 6 months so they can get on with actually doing their jobs.
That's £2,572.00 take home. It's a typical slave wage - what I mean by that is that, at least in London, after all outgoings like rent, you'll end up with very little. You can't really save a meaningful amount for a rainy day or to survive between jobs. So you'll be trying to keep the job for as long as possible out of fear of ending up in the streets.
Outside of London it is a good wage. But what happens when the government spends a few tens of millions of quid building a new out-of-London base and establishing a base of qualified specialists is one of two things:
1) The function is outsourced and everyone TUPEd to crapita or capgemiwhy or one of the usual suspects
2) Private businesses move into the area and hoover up all the competent staff by doubling their salaries, thus forcing government to outsource the function to keep it alive
and thus the cycle ever continues
Outside of London though it is a good wage
Assuming you don't do much in your life beside work, then you'll indeed get extra few quid left over because of the lower rent and slightly cheaper food. For example going on holiday can add up extra few hundred to get you to the airport and may actually wipe your "benefit" of being outside of London.
Also you know a laptop costs the same in Yorkshire.
We do have international airports outside of London you know.
Given in some regions average salary is 20k then 40k is a fortune. I'm on a salary in the 40k+ region in the north of england and very comfortable on it (even if I would like to be paid more), I most certainly do not spend most of my life on work.
Some people just have no clue about money, you appear to be one of them.
Not forgetting the working conditions and decent pension arrangements. The civil service pension equivalent will cost you quite a chunk of your wages if you are not in the civil service.
Guaranteed inflation proof income on retirement.
Life assurance cover.
Pension for dependants.
Potential access to Ill health retirement benefits (with two years service) should you become too ill to work.
Options on leaving a lump sum payment, should something happen to you, through the Death Benefit Nomination
I wonder how much of what is written for the government could be downloaded (e.g. from Estonia: https://joinup.ec.europa.eu/collection/open-source-observatory-osor/news/estonia-makes-public-software-public) and tweaked or configured?
Nah, people who think that way don't get to be cronies of the government.
First project I ever worked on in my career was a Gov project to upgrade from an aging ICL system to IBM AIX back in 1990. The dev guys they brought in were stunning, they really knew their stuff and I learned a heck of lot and we got on so well together. They really wanted to offer me a job but they didn't have the budget to hire a junior dev at the time.
The project managers however, hmmmm. They didn't seem to have a clue, they were mismanaging things, wasting money on sending people to test software that wasn't ready yet, lots of free trips to various parts of the country for several days. They constantly lied in every meeting. They hired in more external management consultants, despite the problem basically being one of manpower to get the dev work done, they simply hired more consultants in to find out why the project was running late. They all concluded lack of dev manpower! Every 3-6 months they hired 2 weeks of consultancy to learn the same thing. 2 years this went on. Finally it got delivered and just about worked.
The only silver lining was that it was a small flagship project, plenty of money and so those involved all got trained how to use the new tech, got real hands on experience and I used that to go get a job in the private sector! Lit a rocket under my career else I'd probably still be slaving away in a gov IT backroom, no real earnings with a iffy, albeit guaranteed gov pension.
Never worked on a government IT project before, but remember a story my old lecturer told me. She also ran an it consultancy, and was called in by Southwark council to fix their housing system. She saw the manager who showed off the system proudly, but needed to fid out what was wrong, so asked to speak to a few users. Nearly every user had switched the terminal they had off because the new system was so badly designed the users had gone back to the old one. One user was even using the terminal as a door stop.
I saw Micheal Lambert's video talking about the track and trace app. A bit of HTML code and Node Red data collectors. Can't have been more than a few million pounds to build something like that, I'd figure. I probably could do it for 50k by myself in three months. It get's continued for 322 Million pounds? How much did it cost to build initially? Did all those 1600+ consultants Dido Harding contracted get a permanent position at the help desk or what?
One clear advantage of proportional representation is that opposition parties are eager to find government corruption going on and catch them with lies that forces resignations and possibly even prosecution. Looking at this report and the general situation the UK is in now, you may want to give it a try. At the very least you don't end up with a fringe of loons getting into power by controlling an incompetent government. And you get to have beer parties,..
This might be off topic, so apologies.
I'm not sure about PR although I can see it as a way of diluting extremism within government. I would like minority parties to have influence over government and be able to visably sanction government and hold them to account for their failings, especially as so few in government seem to be executive material.
Last week, ISTR, Kenneth Clark called the current situation within government "Dictatorship by democracy" saying that previously in the two party system there were a great variety of opinion within both the major parties which reined in the more extreme views. This was no longer the case in his view and they are able to proceed however they liked, unchecked. He was defending the two party system.
I often wonder whether we should save all the money spent on elections (and wotnot) and just pick 650 people out of a hat and pay them the going rate for the term they're in office. We could probably select them similarly to how jurors are selected. That way we would possibly get a good mix of views and experience. It might be preferable to the state of affairs we have at the moment or being run by the cummings band of elites.
We definitely need a better mix of people (power), what could possibly go wrong?
I worked for ITSA (Government IT division) at the time of the privatisation. While working for ITSA we had a philosophy of 'get the product right and stable', after privatisation the consultancies which took over had a philosophy of get the customer to pay the bills and product was secondary. If I learnt anything from working for consultancies its that it's all flim-flam and contract management. I would strongly recommend that any company that has to develop product, put your own team of engineers together. Believe me the consultancies will take you to the cleaners.
put your own team of engineers together
Ad hoc teams of independent consultants worked well. It's a different dynamic than a large consultancy throwing cannon fodder at the project.
Still, an organisation should have their own dedicated and well paid team also to be able to know whether any temporary resource is doing their job to a great standard.
Joined the project it was £2bn over budget.
It was run by Aurthur Anderson’s who had to change their name to Accenture (for some naughty reason)
You had to use their proprietary pseudo code generator which the DHSS had to license, well what a bag of crapola that was, I was reprimanded for putting a red pen through some of the code as it would never work “true = false” type stuff.
There mantra 4 weeks in ops, 4 weeks in development, 4 weeks as an analyst and then you ready to lead a team.
NIRS - did it every go live.
The simple thing is with government IT no one every gets sacked.
One of our very senior managers (in the IT business) was seconded to the government (Cabinet office) to oversee some major projects and ensure they were being managed.
One of his first actions (even before getting his desk/office organised) was to ask for a list of the top 20 projects along with projected dates, costs, list of top 10 problems, list of top 10 inhibitors, the person responsible for the project.
He wanted to spend a day with each project understanding it etc. The first two projects on the list failed to deliver the information ( they didn't have it!). By the third project the civil service regrouped around him, and managed to block any progress and meetings. He left after a few months as he was unable to make any progress.
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