Sunday, 1 July 2012

Whitehall's power without responsibility

On 12 June 2012, the Institute for Government hosted a seminar on leadership which consisted of a conversation between Sir-Gus-now-Lord O'Donnell (GOD) and his oppo in Australia, Terry Moran. They were due to discuss "the role of leadership in reform, the challenges of making change happen in public service and leading through crises".

Friday, 29 June 2012

Francis Maude, the UK government's major IT suppliers and the empty chair

Hat tip: Tony Collins, Poor IT suppliers to face ban from contracts?
The Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude is due to meet representatives of suppliers today [28 June 2012], including Accenture[,] BT, Capgemini, Capita, HP, IBM, Interserve, Logica, Serco, and Steria.

They will be warned that suppliers with poor performance may find it more difficult to secure new work with the Government ...
The suggestion is that up to now "suppliers with poor performance" haven't found it hard as a result to "secure new work with the government".

Apart from Atos, DMossEsq and Fujitsu, who's missing from that list?

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The agility with which Francis Maude and Sir Bob Kerslake are being parted from our money

Leafing through Computer Weekly the other day as no doubt we all were revealed this article by Mark Ballard, Soldiers nail data for agile offensive on $6bn cock-up:
... the effort is part of an emergency reform of IT projects using agile methods, on orders issued by the Department [of] Defense last year after 11 major computer systems went $6bn over budget and 31 years behind schedule.
$6 billion over budget? 31 years behind schedule? So it doesn't just happen in the UK:

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Is Blair bidding to become the patron saint of lost causes?

1 June 2012: Tony is back. But what shall we do with him?

24 June 2012: Tony Blair: ID cards needed to tackle illegal migrants
24 June 2012: Blair denies he ‘gagged’ Goldsmith over Iraq war
24 June 2012: Tony Blair: I don't regret opening UK borders to European immigrants
25 June 2012: Blair wants ‘grand plan’ for euro - and UK joining
26 June 2012: Blair defends PFI as NHS trusts face bankruptcy


27 June 2012: Tony Blair: I would be prime minister again
29 June 2012: Unthinkable? Tony Blair for PM again
30 June 2012: I wish I had been offered presidency of EU, Tony Blair admits
11 July 2012: Meet the new Labour adviser: Tony Blair
12 July 2012: Blair returns to help shape Olympic legacy plan
12 July 2012: Tony Blair, the David Hasselhoff of Labour politics, returns for an ill-advised curtain call
13 July 2012: Tony Blair's back - and he's dangerous for the Tories and Labour
17 July 2012: Tony Blair's unfinished business
23 July 2012: Tony Blair's return as prime minister would not get Britain's backing
26 July 2012: Tony Blair may itch to return, but he faces a cruel reality check
4 August 2012: No shadow cabinet return for Tony Blair
12 August 2012: Stewart Lee: movements afoot to return Tony Blair to Labour's seat of power?
28 August 2012: Archbishop Desmond Tutu pulls out of event with Tony Blair because of Iraq War
31 August 2012: Tony Blair to be honoured with Parliament bust

In the same demented vein:
15 June 2012: A waste of good talent – give Gordon a job
28 June 2012: Gordon Brown could have been Britain's LBJ ...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Heywood's Whitehall – no longer economical with the actualité


Top civil servant: Britain faces decade of cuts?

That's what it says in the Times:
The most senior civil servant in the country has warned of a decade of spending cuts.

Sir Jeremy Heywood said the Government was only a quarter of the way through its austerity programme, the BBC reported. Speaking to civil servants at Westminster, Sir Jeremy warned that spending restraint could last “seven, eight, maybe ten years”.

The Cabinet Secretary’s prediction echoes warnings by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) earlier this year that the Coalition’s austerity programme would be insufficient to bring the deficit down to “prudent” levels.
Prudent levels? Ten years of cuts?

Has Sir Jeremy gone native?

Has he forgotten the fine example of Sir-Gus-now-Lord O'Donnell who quite unmistakably told us that boom and bust had been abolished in the UK and that opportunities for all are available as a result? Now how is the unfortunate St Augustine supposed to lay his healing hands on the Governorship of the Bank of England?

Thursday, 14 June 2012

HMG's cloud computing strategy – there isn't one – and the Edgbaston Test

On 20 October 2011 Chris Chant listed 23 symptoms of the illness which Government IT suffers from. He carried on energetically repeating his diagnosis, unchallenged, and promoting cloud computing as the effective prescription. There he was, at it again, six months later on 11 April 2012, in a blog post on the G-Cloud website, #Unacceptable IT is pervasive. Two days later his resignation was announced.

Monday, 11 June 2012

A senior Whitehall insider publicly cites 23 reasons why the relationship with Government IT suppliers is poisoned, and no-one disagrees – who cares?

On 20 October 2011, when he was still an Executive Director of the Cabinet Office, Chris Chant delivered a famous speech to the Institute for Government about Government IT. He said that:

Introducing Chris Chant
Chris has a long track record of success in delivering complex business and technology change in the public sector. Most of his work has involved working in successful partnership with multiple public sector bodies and the largest IT suppliers in the industry, where he has championed innovative approaches which challenge attitudes on both sides of the partnership. His recent work has included stints as the Programme Director in the Cabinet Office leading the UK Government’s move to cloud computing and data centre consolidation across the public sector. Previously, Chris was Director of London 2012 Integration and Assurance and also Chief Information Officer within the Government Olympic Executive, and also held specific responsibility for ensuring integrated delivery of the security systems required. Before that, Chris was CIO for Defra, where he led a major IT service improvement programme with a strategic outsourcing partner. After his early career in the (then) Inland Revenue and later, HMRC, he worked at the cabinet Office where he was programme director for a range of large and complex multi-agency IT services, including the Government Gateway.
  1. Government IT is outrageously expensive ...
  2. ... and ridiculously slow
  3. It is poor quality ...
  4. ... and not user-centric
  5. No-one knows how many staff are employed or what they do or how much they cost
  6. No-one knows whether contracts with suppliers can be terminated or how much it would cost to do so
  7. No contract should be signed for a term of more than 12 months but they are – they are signed for years into the future, far beyond the time when anyone could know what will be wanted by then
  8. Procuring Government IT should be like buying a suit from Marks and Spencer – M&S do not make you promise in advance to buy x suits over the next y years before opening a shop in your vicinity
  9. The Government doesn't know what IT systems it owns, how much they cost and even whether they are used
  10. They don't know if users have given up using systems and, if so, why
  11. Government can't communicate with its customers securely
  12. Government pays £3,500 p.a. per PC
  13. Staff should be allowed to use Twitter and YouTube at work but they're not
  14. Call centre staff should have access to the systems they are trying to support but they don't
  15. 80% of Government IT is supplied by just five contractors
  16. Departments outsource their strategy to contractors and consultants
  17. It can cost £50,000 to get a single line of program code amended
  18. It can take 12 weeks to get a new server commissioned whereas with Amazon there is no wait
  19. Government should use small and medium size suppliers whose IT practices are more "agile" but instead they stick with the big ponderous suppliers
  20. Government keeps paying for IT resources even if they're not used
  21. They waste time and money as one department after another performs the same job of assessing the same products for the same job
  22. Prices are not forced down, competition is not working and there is no incentive for contractors to do a good job ...

Friday, 8 June 2012

Dead fish Department of Health has lost sight of the "public" in "public service" – Sir David Nicholson KCB CBE

Key Stage 3 is that phase in the education of our children which takes place in England between the ages of 11 and 14. The syllabus is demanding and includes a course on management consultancy. No mere ivory tower training divorced from the real world, students are expected to give policy advice to Whitehall departments. Advice on procurement, for example, much needed by the Department of Health.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The other Golden Jubilee – 60 years of Whitehall's disgraceful public administration, "administrative lawlessness"

In The English Constitution (1867) Walter Bagehot famously wrote:
No one can approach to an understanding of the English institutions, or of others which, being the growth of many centuries, exercise a wide sway over mixed populations, unless he divide them into two classes. In such constitutions there are two parts (not indeed separable with microscopic accuracy, for the genius of great affairs abhors nicety of division) first, those which excite and preserve the reverence of the population — the dignified parts, if I may so call them; and next, the efficient parts — those by which it, in fact, works and rules.
We have all just had a pleasant four days here in the UK to reflect on and to observe the success of the dignified parts.

The Constitution doesn't come with guarantees but, since 1936 when Edward VIII mercifully got rid of himself, we seem to have enjoyed dignified parts of the Constitution which live up to their name.

Now the four days are over and it's back to the efficient parts, which don't.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Dead fish Home Office has lost sight of the "public" in "public service" – Rob Whiteman

Thanks to Anna Leach writing in The Register magazine, the following astonishing interchange at a Home Affairs Committee evidence session (15 May 2012) is brought to everyone's attention. The Chair of the Committee is Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP and Rob Whiteman is Chief Executive of the UK Border Agency, part of the Home Office:
Q151 Chair: ... over the issue of your computer system that crashed at Lunar house. Hundreds of people were turned away, and we hear that some were in tears at the fact that the system did not work. What went wrong? Have we got compensation from the IT company? Will it happen again, and have we rearranged all the appointments?

Rob Whiteman: We contacted people over the bank holiday weekend and rearranged appointments. Around 500 appointments that were cancelled were rearranged. The issues around IT are incredibly frustrating for my staff, as well as for our customers. When I meet staff, it is a constant frustration that systems do not work all the time and that some of the resilience issues do not conform to common standards. In terms of morale and other issues, it is absolutely vital that we get to the heart of these IT problems. They are complex, yes, but-

Q152 Chair: Yes, but we do not want to go into that now. Do we know why it broke down?

Rob Whiteman: We do know why it broke down. It was an error on the network that affected the way appointments were queued from the system, and therefore they could not travel properly around the network. It was an IT failure, but, to answer your question, I have discussed this several times with the Chief Executive of the IT company that is the primary IT provider.

Q153 Chair: What is the company?

Rob Whiteman: I would rather not say.

Q154 Chair: I am sorry, Mr Whiteman; this is a Select Committee of the House-

Rob Whiteman: It is Atos.

Q155 Chair: There is no need to be secret with us; we will find out. It is public money. It is not coming out of your pocket. The taxpayer is paying. What is the name of the company?

Rob Whiteman: Atos.

Q156 Chair: And what was his explanation as to why it broke down?

Rob Whiteman: The reason I was reluctant, Chairman, is that we have a contract with Atos. It is trying its best to resolve the issues, but obviously we are being a demanding client and saying that performance is not good enough.

Q157 Chair: As you should be.

Rob Whiteman: I would not want to cast aspersions on the effort that it is making. It has put an additional team in to try to analyse the problem, and I receive daily and weekly reports from them. The point I would make is that in terms of UKBA improving over the next couple of years ...
The first reaction of a senior civil servant like Mr Whiteman is meant to be in favour of the public. That's what the public service ethos is. But when Mr Whiteman is asked to name the contractor responsible for the failure of a major IT system his first reaction is "I would rather not say".

His first reaction is to try to hide information. From Parliament and from the public.

His first reaction is in favour of the producer. "I would rather not say". This is producer capture.

The relationship between the Home Office and its suppliers in this case and others is pathological. Mr Whiteman's posture is craven. He isn't meant to be beholden to his suppliers. That's the wrong way round. Instead of serving the public, he finds himself serving UKBA's consultants and contractors. Which leaves the public paying and unserved.