Risky child-support plans rely too much on new IT system – NAO
Cost cuts hinge on delayed, overbudget mega-IT overhaul
Plans by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission to cut spending are risky and rely too much on the introduction of a new IT system, according to a report from the National Audit Office (NAO).
The commission has committed to cutting its budget to £428m in 2014-15 – although this is £44m higher than than its original estimate – from a 2010-11 budget of £560m.
"Faced with a challenging but achievable target for reducing its spending, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission is relying heavily on the introduction of fees to parents, underpinned by a new IT system. This is a high risk approach with no contingencies if it goes awry," said NAO head Amyas Morse.
While the child maintenance administration system was envisaged as a way of saving money, its own price tag has risen since it was conceived. In January 2011 its cost was estimated at £149m, by October of that year it had risen to £275m. "The commission cannot afford the cost of its new child maintenance scheme to increase further," according to the NAO's report, Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission: Cost reduction.
The system is intended to replace two existing ones, which each underpin a separate child maintenance scheme. Due to flaws in the IT systems for each scheme, some 100,000 cases have had to be removed from the system and managed manually by clerical staff at a cost of £48m, according to the NAO.
The delivery date of the system has slipped three times from full delivery in April 2010, to implementation in two phases in October 2012 and July 2013.
"Ministers have stated that introducing fees depends on the commission implementing a new, effective child maintenance scheme from October 2012. The [commission's predecessor, the Child Support] Agency did not have a good track record in delivering IT systems. Our analysis suggests that the commission could repeat some of the agency's mistakes. The original plans were optimistic and the commission lacked sufficient internal resources to understand fully how the IT system would be developed," the report said.
According to the document, among the mistakes made by the Child Support Agency that the commission is at risk of repeating include having sufficient internal technical resources to be an intelligent customer of the contractor.
"The commission initially used elements of both an 'agile' (iterative) approach and a traditional approach to build the new system. Its mix and match approach meant there were two distinct routes for specifying requirements and resulted in duplicated, conflicting and ambiguous specifications. The commission did not have previous experience of using the agile approach," the report notes.
"The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) concluded in July 2011 that the commission's ability to act as an intelligent customer contributed to slippage in the programme."
Along with the introduction of an "agile approach", undertaken in mid-2011, the commission has improved on existing government measures, such as the use of 'project review gates' which stop design work proceeding from one stage to the next without being ratified by all main stakeholders, it said.
"It is not yet clear whether such remedial actions have sufficiently addressed the earlier problems. An external review rated the programme as 'amber' in July 2011. The commission must undertake critical testing in parallel with programme delivery to meet the implementation date," the NAO report adds.
This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.
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Re: Re: I can see this going bad.
"Not exactly thinking of the children there are we?"
That is not the ONLY consideration. The CSA in principle is a great idea. In practice, having been on the receiving end of it, it was a disaster.
In the 90s, I had pre-existing agreement with my Ex Wife to pay in excess of the CSA calculated amount, and paid regularly by standing order. My Ex unfortunately had to claim income support, this triggered the CSA getting involved. They refused to take account of the payments already made. They tried to double charge me despite my having already paid more than they were requesting and despite my Ex telling them I had already paid (and still was). They made an attachment of earnings order anyway and I was left with less than I needed to live. They only backed down (grudgingly) when I took the case to my MP and it went all the way to the house of Lords.
This seemed to be down to the collection performance targets that were set and someone already paying was an easy target.
Yhey sent my financial statements to my Ex and hers to me by mistake. I certainly felt suicidal and worthless from the way I was treated, and this DESPITE being an amicable split and being a good parent and paying already. The man my Ex left me for hid his assets and paid his ex nothing at all, as it was too difficult to chase.
The CSA as it was in the 90s was evil and ruined the lives of many couples. I don't know of anyone that it helped.
Yes, like in any cause there were extremists who just jumped on the bandwagon and didn't want to pay anything, but don't belittle us all with your trite reference to a batman costume. It was at least in part the guys in batman suits that brought the publicity to the thousands of people like me caught up in the fiasco that was the CSA.
The CSA could cause an argument in an empty room.
How many times will we have to pay to watch another slowmo car-crash government IT project?
Once again the lure of the single integrated solution has seduced the suits in charge, despite the abysmal track record of this approach to government procurement. No doubt the subtle influence of "objective", "impartial", "professional" consultants played a part.
The monolithic nature of the project, coupled with Whitehall's renowned speed of thought and response, will mean that it is incapable of tracking changes in legislation and operating practice, nevrmind changes in technology.
Add in "two distinct routes for specifying requirements and resulted in duplicated, conflicting and ambiguous specifications" and I will bet my own hard earned money that this will tunr into yet another money pit which will eventually be abandoned in favour of a newer grlitzier "solution".
The really sad thing is that this is not rocket science. It's basically a database application no different to many existing commercial systems. The detail differs but the concepts are the same. Maybe it should be given to Google or Amazon to develop.
The real losers, however, will be the "customers" and the poor harrassed staff who will have to deal with the almost inevitable delays and mistakes and "computer errors".
@ I can see this going bad. 9:44 GMT.
I never got the men who do their kids & themselves in desperation.
If you turn up in the news having drowned yourself then Harriet Harman can justifiably view you as one less man to vote against her. But if you are in the news for walking into your local court, your wife's office, or the Fawcett Society hq with a cut throat, having beheaded as many of those who did it to you, before CO19 mows you down, then you have made your point in a way that will actually change something.
Slightly less extreme, and what I'd prefer you did, is just vote your MP out, and make it clear why. Men are their own worst enemy, they vote for what they believe is best for their dependents and friends. Women (and everyone else who are too weak to survive on their own,) vote for who will give them more of men's tax.
So avoiding value judgements, while politicians may be self-serving, thieving cowards, we can't blame the filthy worthless scum whores for acting against you if you won't ever vote them out. They have teams of political analysts (usually children who grow up to be people like Ed Miliband,) and they'd react in a second if you actually did vote like women do. One of the funniest things I ever heard was ex MP Mellor, on LBC97.3 saying that he spoke as he found. Pure comedy.