Costly IT failures seem to be a coalition motif. Photo: Getty
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Failed government IT projects could lose taxpayers £1bn

The Home Office has been ordered to pay £224m to a defence contractor; government IT project waste is really adding up.

The news broke yesterday that the US defence contractor Raytheon has won an arbitration tribunal against the Home Office, and the government has been ordered to pay £224m to the company.

The tribunal was addressing the government’s unlawful termination of a £750m contract for an electronic border control system (the controversial “eBorders” programme intended to track down terrorists and monitor people moving in and out of the country), and has been one of the longest-running disputes over a government IT system.

A nine-year contract was signed with Raytheon under the last government, in 2007, but was swiftly broken once the coalition took power in 2010. Ministers blamed the company for being behind schedule, and no longer trusted it with building the IT framework to drive the system.

However, Raytheon threatened to sue ministers, blaming the UK Border Agency for the failings of the project’s implementation, and the tribunal yesterday criticised the UKBA’s process used in reaching a decision and carrying out the termination, calling it “flawed”.

The Home Secretary Theresa May has written to both the home affairs select committee and public accounts committee explaining the outcome of the arbitration, and although she didn’t clarify how the department would pay the money, she did comment in the letter:

“The Government has already taken steps to make sure this kind of thing should not happen again.”

Yet failed IT projects have become a bit of a morbid motif in this coalition. Costly IT failures have become a symptom of a rather chaotic propensity to outsource, and in the process fail when managing outsourcing contracts.

Last month, there were unsubstantiated reports that the Department of Health may lose taxpayers £700m by having to pay out for losing a legal battle with Fujitsu over a failed IT system for the NHS; the National Programme for IT (NPfIT). The case was held in secret, and neither the Cabinet Office (which tried to broker a deal with the company) nor Fujitsu would comment on its outcome, but reports emerged nonetheless that the latter may have won – and Fujitsu did announce its intention to sue the DH for £700m in the past, once it was fired for non-performance by the government in 2008.

If it comes to be true that Fujitsu is owed £700m, then this added to Raytheon’s award would mean that the cost to taxpayers of failed government IT projects could reach nearly £1bn.

There is also the Ministry of Justice's recent revelation two months ago of its plans to axe a £127m IT project in favour of an alternative "outsourced solution". According to the Law Society Gazette, the department has already written off £56.3m in staff and contract costs for 2013/14 as a result of this decision.

And when you add the cost of another problematic IT project, the Department for Work and Pensions’ universal credit scheme, which has notoriously already wasted millions on IT failings, it might be time for the government to do more than turn it off and turn it on again.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Emmanuel Macron can win - but so can Marine Le Pen

Macron is the frontrunner, but he remains vulnerable to an upset. 

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is campaigning in the sixth largest French city aka London today. He’s feeling buoyed by polls showing not only that he is consolidating his second place but that the voters who have put him there are increasingly comfortable in their choice

But he’ll also be getting nervous that those same polls show Marine Le Pen increasing her second round performance a little against both him and François Fillon, the troubled centre-right candidate. Her slight increase, coming off the back of riots after the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man and Macron’s critical comments about the French empire in Algeria is a reminder of two things: firstly the potential for domestic crisis or terror attack to hand Le Pen a late and decisive advantage.  Secondly that Macron has not been doing politics all that long and the chance of a late implosion on his part cannot be ruled out either.

That many of his voters are former supporters of either Fillon or the Socialist Party “on holiday” means that he is vulnerable should Fillon discover a sense of shame – highly unlikely but not impossible either – and quit in favour of a centre-right candidate not mired in scandal. And if Benoît Hamon does a deal with Jean-Luc Mélenchon – slightly more likely that Fillon developing a sense of shame but still unlikely – then he could be shut out of the second round entirely.

What does that all mean? As far as Britain is concerned, a Macron or Fillon presidency means the same thing: a French government that will not be keen on an easy exit for the UK and one that is considerably less anti-Russian than François Hollande’s. But the real disruption may be in the PR battle as far as who gets the blame if Theresa May muffs Brexit is concerned.

As I’ve written before, the PM doesn’t like to feed the beast as far as the British news cycle and the press is concerned. She hasn’t cultivated many friends in the press and much of the traditional rightwing echo chamber, from the press to big business, is hostile to her. While Labour is led from its leftmost flank, that doesn’t much matter. But if in the blame game for Brexit, May is facing against an attractive, international centrist who shares much of the prejudices of May’s British critics, the hope that the blame for a bad deal will be placed solely on the shoulders of the EU27 may turn out to be a thin hope indeed.

Implausible? Don’t forget that people already think that Germany is led by a tough operator who gets what she wants, and think less of David Cameron for being regularly outmanoeuvered by her – at least, that’s how they see it. Don’t rule out difficulties for May if she is seen to be victim to the same thing from a resurgent France.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.