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Millions wasted on IT: PAC chair parting shot

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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 government spending.

"Reliable information is at the heart of efficient and effective government but, where this has been recognised, too often the response has been to buy a new IT system without planning what they need and allowing for adequate testing," wrote Leigh in the letter dated 29 March 2010.

He added: "Time and again, departments have wasted millions on IT systems that fail to live up to promise, come in late and cost hugely more than forecast."

The chair used the Rural Payment Agency's "woeful" implementation of the single payment scheme as an example of poor departmental IT spending. He said the £350m system for the scheme continues to cause "anxiety and hardship" for farmers. Leigh added that the system can only be supported at a huge cost and that the data it holds is "riddled with errors".

He also described the Ministry of Defence's new £7bn defence information infrastructure system as being "fatally flawed". Leigh wrote: "There was no proper pilot for this highly complex programme. In addition, the consortium implementing the project – led by EDS, a company whose track record of delivering government IT projects has not been exemplary – underestimated the complexity of the software it had agreed to create."

Leigh continued that the failures are not isolated incidents and that there are examples of poor IT practice "across government". He believes departments have not always shown themselves to be intelligent clients and sometimes show "a lack of capacity to engage effectively with suppliers".

In order to ensure the successful delivery of future IT projects Leigh says departments must adhere to three principles: ensure senior level engagement; act as an intelligent client; and make sure there is a means of realising the benefits of a project.

The use of information by government departments is another area that needs to be improved, Leigh wrote. "This woeful absence of information on cost and demand means that departments do not have the information to know what impact they get from the money they spend," he said.

Leigh will be stepping down as the committee's chair at the forthcoming election.

This article was originally published at Kable.

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