Thursday, 12 December 2013

Vaz v. Rapson – book now to avoid disappointment

In their bid to transform government, the Government Digital Service (GDS) have chosen 25 public service transactions to demonstrate their prowess.

Three of them (see alongside) are Home Office transactions. No.20 out of 25 is something to do with criminal record checks.

But things have moved on. No.20 is no more. As ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, executive director of GDS, tells us in his quarterly report:
Following discovery on exemplar 20 (criminal records checks), GDS and Home Office (HO) have agreed that due to contractual constraints and competing policy and legislative priorities, there would be more opportunity to effect transformational change by March 2015 in another service. GDS and HO have agreed to investigate working with HM Passports Office as an alternative, and details of the new service will be confirmed publicly on the transformation dashboard when finalised.
He also tells us that:
We have published guidelines on increasing digital take-up alongside case studies of how public sector organisations have successfully achieved channel shift; we intend to expand on this with additional case studies.

We’re doing further research with users of 2 services (online passport applications and Carer’s Allowance) to learn more about:
  • how we can get offline users to use a digital service for the first time
  • why users revert to non-digital channels
We’ll publish the outcomes of the research along with the guidance we develop from it.
The "contractual constraints" on the criminal records work can't have just appeared recently. They must have been known about a long time ago.

It looks as though GDS have been taken off criminal record checks but given something else to do on passports as a consolation. Do GDS and the Home Office realise that there are "contractual constraints" on passport work as well, just as much as on criminal record checks?

The contract to provide the Home Office with work on passports is worth £385 million and is currently held by CSC, the software house who contributed so much to the NHS's National Programme for IT (£12 billion of taxpayers' money reduced to ahes) and to the Home Office's biometrics-based visa applications system. CSC is also the software house which has been fined $250 million by the US military and is being sued by its shareholders.

CSC took over the passport contract from Siemens, who were paid £365 million between 1999 and 2009. When DMossEsq renewed his passport on-line 10½ years ago, the Siemens system seemed to work perfectly well. When he renewed it six months ago, the CSC system seemed to work perfectly well.

On that basis, it seems unlikely that we need GDS to do any more work on passport applications. It's a waste of their time and our money and it may invalidate any warranties CSC have given.

The effect of these huge passport contracts to re-write working software is that we are being over-charged by £296 million a year (DMossEsq estimate), a fact which has been brought to the attention of Sarah Rapson, who was executive director chief executive of the Identity & Passport Service (IPS) at the time.

No longer.

IPS is now HMPO, Her Majesty's Passport Office.

And Sarah Rapson isn't the executive director chief executive there any more – she's now interim Director General of UK Visas and Immigration. When she made her first appearance before Keith Vaz's Home Affairs Committee they treated her with sympathetic tolerance and patience.

UK e-borders scheme failing to make immigration checks, the Guardian told us in October: "Border control system's alerts are not being routinely used to stop terror suspects or war criminals, watchdog reveals", the watchdog being the excellent John Vine.

Her next appearance may be more dramatic. Book early.

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Updated 22.7.14
Home Office's 'flagship' £350m immigration computer system ditched

The Home Office wasted nearly £350 million on a computer system for dealing with immigration and asylum applications that was abandoned, forcing staff to revert to using an old system that regularly freezes.

The “Immigration Case Work” system was commissioned in 2010 and was supposed to be a “flagship IT programme”, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) said.

However, it suffered "delays and problems" that led to it being shut down last August. Ministers have now commissioned another new computer system that is due to cost a further £209 million by 2016-17 ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So on the one hand provably-dreadful companies like CSC and Siemens are being paid the crazy sum of £35m+ every single year to maintain the passports system.

But on the other hand, you suggest that it's not worth even *investigating* whether the process can be improved, whether we can save huge amounts of money spent on incompetent IT outsourcers, and whether the number of disparate systems and websites people have to use can be consolidated and modernised by moving the online part potentially in-house?

To me, the transparent way in which this GDS department are doing things -- inevitable failures and all -- is a better approach than the Government's approach to IT thus far.

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