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 deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood