Major government IT failures in the UK (major source: The Independent 19 Jan 2010)
NHS IT – The £12.7bn National Health Service National Programme for IT (NPfIT) was established by the UK government in 2002. The aim was to replace paper medical records with a centralised national electronic database, allowing a patient from Hull to walk into a hospital in Hereford and find all their details ready at the click of a mouse.
At the time, NPfIT was meant to constitute the single largest IT investment in the UK and the most extensive IT healthcare development of its kind in the world. “The possibilities are enormous if we can get this right,” Tony Blair promised at the start, ‘overlooking the possibility of getting it wrong’ as the Guardian put it. Millions of pounds were paid out in legal fees during the various contract negotiations, with the taxpayer reportedly having footed a £39.2m bill for ‘legal and commercial support’.
In September 2011 the government finally announced that the scheme would be scrapped. For more information, see:
The Department for Transport’s Shared Services – was initially forecast to save £57m, and has been estimated to actually cost the taxpayer £170m, a failure in management that the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee described as a display of ‘stupendous incompetence’. From The Independent: ‘To officials at the Department for Transport, the Shared Services Centre seemed too good to be true: not only would it integrate the human resources and financial services of the department and its various agencies, it would even save the taxpayer £57m.
Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed as the scheme became another example of an IT project going horribly wrong. Workers at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) were forced to brush up on their language skills as computer systems gave them messages in German.’ The most recent evidence of the higher cost was documented in a House of Commons Select Committee report here– see response to recommendation 17, p7. In addition, in July 2011, there were press reports that the bill for the DfT’s replacement shared service centre could in fact top £750m.
FiReControl was a project, initiated in the UK in March 2004, to reduce the number of control rooms used to handle emergency calls for fire services and authorities. As Computer Weekly put it: ‘The project was tabled in a frenzy over the “War on Terror”. The emergency services had to be got ship-shape, and quick. So the Department for Communities and Local Government called in military contractor EADS.
They then proceeded without proper planning to waste six years and £494m getting nowhere. The idea was to encourage localism among the 46 Fire Services. DCLG did this by forcing them to ditch their existing control rooms and replace them with nine, pan-local centres. It then tried to force a new computer system on them. It said they had to change their working processes to fit the new system, which it aimed to take ‘off-the-shelf’ from EADS to save money and time.
So much for localism.
£7.1bn Defence Information Infrastructure (DII) – In 2005, the Ministry of Defence decided to offer a contract to a consortium of suppliers to replace the hundreds of different computer systems being used by the military with a single system that would be used by the army, navy and air force, as well as the MoD itself. It was to be used by 300,000 people across 2,000 sites.
However, The Independent reported in 2010 that it was running more than £180m over budget and 18 months late. A parliamentary inquiry also warned that forces’ reliance on older systems put them at risk of a security breach.
£400m Libra system for magistrates’ courts (From The Independent) An attempt to bring records used by magistrates courts into the digital age backfired when trying to introduce one universal IT system to all courts descended into a costly mess. Fujitsu originally bid £146m to deliver the Libra system in 1998. However, the project proved more complicated than anticipated, and costs were put at more than £400m.
£350m Single Payment Scheme system (SPS) The Single Payment Scheme system was designed in 2003 to be a sophisticated way of giving farmers their subsidies, by mapping their land and working out their level of payment. But failures with the IT systems being used mean that farmers were left short-changed. In 2006, around £1.28bn of the £1.5bn subsidies destined for British farmers still had not been given out. The Rural Payments Agency overseeing the project was ordered to make 23 major changes to the system.
Despite the £350m spent on the technology, the Public Accounts Committee warned in 2009 that it was already “at risk of becoming obsolete”. On top of that, Private Eye (Jan 2012) reported that the Rural Payments Agency have spent £300m on temporary staff to deal with all the rework, caused by the service failing to deliver first time, and have been fined £327m by the EU for failing to pay the farmers properly.
£300m GCHQ “box move” of technology – (From The Independent) When the Government’s intelligence organisation, GCHQ, decided to move its complex computer systems into a new building in 1997, the projected £41m cost was so small that officials believed it could be absorbed within existing budgets.
That was until the Curse of the Government IT Project struck. Costs of the so-called “box move” soon began to rise out of control. In 2003, the National Audit Office (NAO) put the costs at more than £300m. Edward Leigh, Tory chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, called the original budget “staggeringly inaccurate”.
£155m National Offender Management Information System (C-Nomis) – (From The Independent) In an attempt to make sharing information about offenders easier, the Department for Justice gave the go-ahead for the National Offender Management Information System (C-Nomis) to be rolled out to prisons and the probation service.
As the estimated cost doubled to more than £600m and senior officials questioned the whole point of the project, it was abandoned in 2007, with £155m already spent.
£106m Benefit Processing Replacement Programme – (From The Independent) In June 2006, the Department for Work and Pensions confidently assured Parliament that new funding for its Benefit Processing Replacement Programme (BPRP) had been approved.
So it came as a surprise to many when it emerged just three months later that the project had been quietly scrapped. Little information has emerged on why BPRP was abandoned, but the Government has admitted that £106m had already been spent on it before it pulled the plug.
£88.5m Prism IT project – (From The Independent) Undeterred by past failures, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) thought it would be a good idea in 2002 to order a new computer system for their 200 offices around the globe. The result was the Prism IT project, seemingly a bargain at just £54m.
However, delays and costs rose, while the contractor was even forced to temporarily halt the scheme in 2005 while an investigation took place into its various problems. The system did not prove to be a hit with staff. One wrote in 2004: “In all the FCO’s long history of ineptly implemented IT initiatives, Prism is the most badly designed, ill-considered one of the lot.”