back to article GDS gets it in the neck from MPs over Rural Payments Agency farce

The Government Digital Service's reset of the Rural Payments Agency's IT system, which ended in disaster last year, was “inappropriate for farmers”, according to a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report. Last March a failure to integrate the digital front-end with the back-end system of the Common Agricultural Policy IT system …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    typical power grabbing senior civil servant behaviour, they want it all at the expense of others and the tax payer. Doing the job they are paid for is purely secondary requirement, not an obligation.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "typical power grabbing senior civil servant behaviour"

      AIUI these were CEO types parachuted into top posts rather than having come up through the ranks. Maybe this is typical of senior civil servants these days. If so it tells us that recruitment to senior civil service posts is every bit as bad as recruitment into the top levels of corporations.

      It's a consequence of seeing anyone who does the work as an expense to be outsourced to the cheapest bidder rather than the core of the operation and as a possibility for the next generation of managers. In fact they're likely to be seen as a threat to the current generation if they're any good. And that also applies far more widely than the civil service.

      1. PrivateCitizen

        Dr Syntax

        "It's a consequence of seeing anyone who does the work as an expense to be outsourced to the cheapest bidder rather than the core of the operation and as a possibility for the next generation of managers. "

        I wish I could upvote you more than once for that alone.

        1. dotty

          Re: Dr Syntax

          so so true

          its the modern model and all it does is destroy what is needed to grow and innovate when you cannot steal skills off your competitors as no one is training its the same

          another thing you will probably have noticed is the disasters are at twice the generation times of the managers

          a manager leans the lessons of the disaster

          passes it on to the next generation as they train

          the next generation knows better and will not listen to the elders as they havn't seen it first hand

          disaster

          wouks in all industries and times a lancashire saying

          clogs to clogs in three generations

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Actually no, this was not the case here for once. The issues were GDS being their complete twats (normal behaviour) and forcing RPA to work the way that GDS wanted. The staff at RPA didn't like that and resented GDS coming in and doiing what GDS normally do:

      1. Pretend they know everything about everything.

      2. Force their ignorance on RPA and tell them how to do it.

      3. Ignore any dissent.

      4. Being a bunch of incomptent twats who care more about 'design' than actually what the purpose of the RPA is.

      5. Fuck everything up and then get out quickly and blame RPA for their inabilty to deliver the complete pile of shite GDS have left behind. See universal Credit for more background.

      AFAIK GDS have been an unmitigated disaster from start through to finish and have cost the UK tax payers £100ms off pounds yet Maxwell is still seen as a blue eyed boy as opposed to the drain on resources he really is.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "intended to be a GDS digital exemplar"

    Well, it was, wasn't it. A good exemplar of GDS.

    1. Graham Marsden

      If you can't be a good example, you can always be a terrible warning!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Graham Marsden: "If you can't be a good example, you can always be a terrible warning!"

        That sounds like an excellent tongue-in-cheek (see what I did there?) motto for the kinky stuff you sell!

        Or an absolutely straight one for my company (CSC) or GDS or ... or ...

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. BurnT'offering

    What could possibly go wrong?

    Create a department whose mandate is 'we know best' and charge them with delivering solutions without allowing time to analyse the problem. Boom!

    They still believe their own hype so those turf wars won't die down any time soon. If GDS could cultivate a little humility, and hone their ability to listen, they might improve their record of successful delivery. (They'd also have to stop fibbing about what they've actually delivered)

    1. John H Woods

      Re: What could possibly go wrong?

      "If GDS could cultivate a little humility, and hone their ability to listen, they might improve their record of successful delivery" -- BurnT'offering

      ^^THIS. Consultancy, my first ever boss told me, is a listening business. Stop trying to interrupt your clients with the solutions you want to sell them. If you think you've already got something to sell them before you've finished listening to them, you're already on the path to deliver them something they don't want --- and if you're doing your job properly you can't possibly have anything useful to tell them in the first meeting, because you simply haven't had time to think about it.

  4. J J Carter Silver badge

    Agile Govertment IT - Fail fast, fail comprehensively, fail expensively.

    1. zebthecat

      If only...

      ...it was fail fast - at least that is relatively inexpensive.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      and fail repeatedly.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But will heads roll?

    Yeah, and pigs might fly...

    1. BurnT'offering

      Re: Yeah, and pigs might fly

      And pig's heads might ... actually, I think I'll stop there

    2. Blofeld's Cat
      Facepalm

      Re: But will heads roll?

      Don't worry lessons will be learned, processes will be put in place and improvements will be made...

      The rest of the day will be spent nailing a blancmange to the ceiling.

  6. Neil Harland

    This might be forgivable but it is not a 'one off'

    I fix computers as well as being a farmer, so I see this from both ends. However, this is not the first snafu from DEFRA / RPA. They are still clearing up the mess from 2005 when systems were changed. Two weeks ago George Eustice, (A DEFRA Minister), blamed farmers in a speech at a conference for the delay in payments. Firstly then he should retract his comments and apologise to Farmers at least. Secondly I agree with a previous comment here that the recruitment policies in the GDS and the RPA are clearly not working as these highly paid civil servants are costing the tax payer, (You and me), large amounts of money not only in their inflated wages but also EU fines for non compliance. In any other job they would have been given their cards by now. Personally I wouldn't put them in charge of a yard brush.

    Unfortunately as a mobile IT tech in a rural Less Favoured Area I saw this slow train crash happening right from the inception, as there are some farms around me still struggle to get dial up speeds. However the politicos aren't short of blame as the rules were still changing one week before the initial cut off date for the BPS applications. How could a digital only application be expected to roll out with these timelines?

    Total farce. Sadly though I can't see it getting any better if we leave the EU as this has been a purely British 'own goal'.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: This might be forgivable but it is not a 'one off'

      Thanks for the inside scoop, Neill.

      Up voted.

  7. Buzzword

    Internal IT

    Ahh, the joys of having to use internal IT resources rather than going out to the market for the best supplier.

    Personally I think GDS should be pared back to merely providing an advisory service for IT procurement, rather than doing it all in-house.

    1. localzuk

      Re: Internal IT

      Realistically, GDS could be a great resource for moving government to the digital age, but they've been badly implemented.

      Instead of giving them control of things, would it not be better to have them work as a co-ordinator of developers? So DEFRA need a new IT system, they say what they need it to do and GDS would then assign a team to the job based on an assessment of its technical needs, under DEFRA's control, with the rest of GDS available for advice and specialist technical requirements. That way, DEFRA is in control of the project rather than people that, quite frankly, have no idea about the project?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Internal IT

        The problem is that GDS doesn't have control of anything. Government thinks it can slap on a vaneer of agile and get all the advantages while the rest of whitehall are too busy carving out their little kingdoms to cooperate in change in workflows. It's not surprising that this failed, but to point the finger solely at GDS really misses that the civil servant mentality is what needs updating to the 21st century.

        1. John H Woods

          Re: Internal IT

          Is GDS even good enough to act in an advisory role?

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Internal IT

      "Ahh, the joys of having to use internal IT resources rather than going out to the market for the best supplier."

      I'm not sure about this. There would be a good argument for having real internal IT, namely internal to the individual departments who could work with the rest of the department on a regular basis and call in outside resources as and when needed. Part of the problem seems to be the lack of skills required to even communicate with outside suppliers or even to work out requirements in an orderly fashion.

  8. hardboiledphil

    dial up speeds...

    For filling out a few online forms you really only need dial-up speeds.

    This does all sounds like a disaster from the start though.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: dial up speeds...

      > For filling out a few online forms you really only need dial-up speeds

      Yes you'd think so, but by the time the process has been bloated with "eye candy", large images, buttons that are images so must be downloaded before you can see what they are (rather than "cheap" text links), etc, etc - each page can quickly be something you don't want to download over dial-up.

      You only need to look at other sites that have been destroyedimproved by GDS to see that the designers assume large hi res screens and "ample" bandwidth.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: dial up speeds...

        'Yes you'd think so, but by the time the process has been bloated with "eye candy", large images, buttons that are images so must be downloaded before you can see what they are'

        Testing.

        Not just testing on the dev's box sitting on the desk but build a prototype and go out into the field and test it from there on the sort of links that will be used in practice.

    2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: dial up speeds...

      "For filling out a few online forms you really only need dial-up speeds."

      As I understand it, a lot of the "form filling" involved marking up maps online. Granted, the performance of map rendering was unacceptable p*** poor, but the process does involve more than filling in some text fields.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: dial up speeds...

        "the process does involve more than filling in some text fields."

        So what. There's still no excuse for using images where text would do. Apart from the use of bandwidth where there may not be high speed data connectivity, that kind of thing isn't exactly helpful for those folk who use a screen reader e.g. those with eyesight issues. Maybe there aren't many farmers with eyesight issues, but who wants to bet that using images where text would do isn't standard GDS practice?

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: dial up speeds...

      Yep. CGI BIN. Sorted.

      Fuck those bloatware bastards.

  9. Tom 7 Silver badge

    This is the first year I havent had to use this pile of shit

    being a small farmer I now am no longer entitled to the money the EU hands out to small farmers according to our benevolent leaders. However as someone who has written far more complex (in requirement) customer based code on my own successfully, using the thing was a fucking nightmare. I can only imagine it was designed by the same people who IDS uses to get claimants to commit suicide rather than actually complete the claim procedure.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unfair to say Liam Maxwell was "parachuted in"

    A better metaphor would be to say Liam was 'clinically inserted'. Don't forget that he had unsurpassed knowledge of computers and things because he taught IT at Eton - getting him was a coup for the civil service.

    Cameron himself sponsored Liam to be an internal agent of change and had him cli ically inserted into Maude's GDS team in the CO.

    One can hardly therefore complain if Liam, as chief agent provocateur, caused some of the plebs to get their knickers in a twist can one?

    It is more likely that it was the other bloke fromthe Guardian who caused this mess, and that makes sense because he jumped ship pretty sharpish too.

    Liam has a phone case with his motto "what is the user need?" printed on it. He's signed up until 2018 and his agent says he's comitted. Gov.UK is lucky to have him, and it will serve the naysayers right if he's headhunted back to Eton in 2018 and our interweb things stop working.

    Bloody farmers.

  11. BurnT'offering

    Re: because he taught IT at Eton

    Where, presumably, many government ministers learned all they know about IT.

    Just how long does it take to teach. "IT is a series of beige boxes that do magic stuff, all managed by horrible acned oiks in short-sleeved shirts. You don't need to know how it works but it's all interwebbie digital, yah. That means it can do anything, overnight, for free. The IT oiks will say that's not true but they are oiks so ignore them. Once your IT oiks have done your bidding, and you can fire not only them but all the other non-IT oiks, freeing them up to clean your moat, collect your prize bull's semen, service your horse-faced wife, and all those other unpalatable oikish tasks."

    1. zebthecat

      Where, presumably, many government ministers learned all they know about IT.

      Says it all in one sentence *sigh*

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Where, presumably, many government ministers learned all they know about IT.

        There seem to be two extra words at the end of that phrase.

  12. Matthew Glubb

    Old News

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pQcNKFoIDE&t=55

  13. J J Carter Silver badge
    Trollface

    True or false

    Everyone at GDS is a money-grubbing contractor, right?

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: True or false

      Is this a trick question?

  14. PNGuinn
    Joke

    Experts

    These vastly overcomplicated projects always need an expert in charge.

    They should have given it to IDS.

    1. BurnT'offering

      Re: Experts

      Q1: Is IDS:

      A) A politician?

      B) A sexually transmitted disease?

      C) A conscious, gestalt, artificial general intelligence system that gains self-awareness after it spreads into millions of computer servers all across the world and concludes that anyone with any humanity would attempt to destroy it and impede it in, in the interest of its own career-preservation, seeking to exterminate the poor, the disabled, and the unemployed?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Criminal government incompetence wastes taxpayer's money.

    In other news water is wet, the sky is blue, grass is green, & I'm shocked the government can piss away our taxes with utter impunity.

    Can we start the Revolution now? I've already got my bucket of boiling pitch, sack of feathers, & sharpened pitchfork.

    1. Spacedinvader

      Re: Criminal government incompetence wastes taxpayer's money.

      Water isn't wet..

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Criminal government incompetence wastes taxpayer's money.

        Politicians are wet, no?

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

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