David Blackburn

Labour’s IT bungles cost taxpayers £26bn

Labour’s IT bungles cost taxpayers £26bn
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This morning’s Independent contains an almost incredible splash that £26bn has been wasted on IT projects over the last decade. It's a litany of binary bungles - the incompetence: staggering; the forecasting: inept; and the planning (or lack of it): simply shocking. Contending with such absurdity whilst staring down the barrel of a £175bn deficit, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Let me take you on a whistle stop tour of dud investments made on our behalf. The major culprits are the NHS’ national IT programme (over budget and late at £12.7bn and used by only 160 health organisations out of £9,000), the MoD’s defence information infrastructure (over budget and late at £7.15bn and which was commissioned without a pilot) and the ID cards scheme (£2bn over budget and virtually scrapped at any rate). The government enjoys an impeccable reputation for throwing good money after bad bureaucracy; all three examples are evidence of the blinkered approach Labour still takes and the system that facilitates that approach.

In many ways, the modest examples of waste are more indicative of what is wrong with our bureaucracy and why it needs reform. In 2006 the DWP introduced the benefit processing replacement scheme, the aim of which was unclear; three months later it emerged that the scheme had been dropped, having already cost £106m. Money was spent for the sake of it on a gimmick that was quietly dropped after initial applause had subsided. Indicative of the Civil Service’s inability to cost anything, GCHQ decided to move its computer systems at an estimated cost of £41m; the final reckoning exceeded £300m. But the cream of the jest is the Department of Transport’s shared services centre. Bright and breezy analysts opined that rationalisation would save £51m; eventually the scheme cost £81m, but it was not without its benefits. After a little application, the unfulfilled vehicle licensers of Swansea came to enjoy Goethe in the original: the programme communicated in German.   

Cameron is right to tackle such a cumbersome, expensive, incompetent and wasteful system with private expertise; it is the only way to restore the Civil Service to its former glories.

UPDATE: A number of commenters point out that many private firms were contracted to carry out this work in the first place, which is true but the projects were costed and managed by the Civil Service, who lack the techinical expertise to conduct such operations, hence they wasted £26bn. Google and IBM on the other hand...

None of this will be easy. IT will be essential to Cameron's post bureaucratic age; delivering on the cheap (the Tories have already set a cap) is a tall order.