back to article Just how screwed is IT at the Home Office?

The departure of UK Home Office chief information officer Sarah Wilkinson after two years at the helm comes at an interesting – and crucial – time for the department. Unlike many other Whitehall bodies, the Home Office is responsible for a number of mission- and life-critical programmes, a number of which are in the process of …

  1. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Oh dear. Time for another dip into the bottomless tax-money bucket.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      Not bottomless. They'll just let a few thousand more patients die and a few dozen more schools crumble.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bah!

        You have to think for all this prevention, antagonistic approach to "Foreigners", by May/Rudd - how much of this money could have been spent putting a rejected family's child through schooling, which has to be good for the whole of mankind.

        The UK is a rich Nation, Osbourne & Tory co might say different, but just look at their earning potential, for mediocre indivduals at best. So much money wasted on claptrap.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bah!

      Glad to think we have someone so knowledgeable, skillful at tip-toeing that fine line between Privacy/Security, understanding the technical nuances, as shown by Amber Rudd, our Home Secretrary.

      (If this June election brings anything, please let it bring us a new Home Secretary).

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        "please let it bring us a new Home Secretary)."

        We've had quite a few Home Secretaries over the last decade or two who, no matte which party, all seem to end up singing from the same hymn sheet eventually. T May was one of them.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bah!

        When will Rudd come to my Home to secretate?

    3. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      the bank of england has had about 500,000,000,000 GBP out of this bucket, so no worries about paying for a few poxy computers.

      www.bankofengland.co.uk/markets/Pages/apf/default.aspx

  2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Holmes

    Agile and 'all over the place'

    Move along, nothing to see then. Business as usual.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Agile and 'all over the place'

      As a "civil" servant, I'm continuously amused by the use of the term "agile" you speak to an "Agile Lead" and all they can spout is morning stand-ups and Trello boards. My Agile book is a few inches thick yet barely anyone knows the contents and thinks talking rather than doing is "Agile"

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Agile and 'all over the place'

        Your "Agile book"?

        That's like talking about "your Computer book". Agile means lots of different things. If you don't make the effort to clarify what a particular speaker means by it, then you deserve all you get.

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    And yet this is the price source of all the spy on everyone all the time forever laws.

    There belief in government IT is simply delusional.

    1. TheVogon Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: And yet this is the price source of all the spy on everyone all the time forever laws.

      "There belief in government IT is simply delusional."

      Either you meant "Their", or you are missing a comma?

  4. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Mountains out of molehills?

    e.g no more blue channels at airports for those flying from a country within the European Union

    I could fix that with a bucket of white paint. Would £5000/litre be OK, plus travel expenses?

    Maybe they should have adopted the French method when the blue channels were added, which was to add a door with a blue sign beside the door with the green one, and have both lead to the same exit hall.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Mountains out of molehills?

      Most of the UK airports did the same.

      It's only the terminals that have been built since that have three, and frankly that bit of logistics is trivial - just board up the entrance to the Blue Channel, job done. This also gives the customs officials some more space, which they will of course desperately need.

      The ferry ports are the real logistical nightmare, as right now there are no Customs at all - with nowhere to put them, and no time for them to do the job.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interesting profile on LinkedIn. She doesn't seem to have stuck around very long at any of the myriad of jobs she's had since 2010?

    1. Erewhon

      "She doesn't seem to have stuck around very long at any of the myriad of jobs she's had since 2010"

      Typical Pigeon Manager - moves in, squawks a lot, ruffles feathers, shits everywhere, then flies off...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Wasn't it seagull?

      2. Robert D Bank

        I wonder if she has all her toes?

  6. HmmmYes Silver badge

    'Ageing systems, Brexit, exodus of contractors, delayed agile projects'

    Oh oh oh I bet its Agile. Either that, or the beardy hipster cunts who live the 'agile' way with their cunting craft beer.

    1. organiser

      Bet it's ordinary middle managers whose self esteem comes from having "manager" in their titles, working in a supposedly agile environment without having an agile mindset whatsoever.

  7. Buzzword

    IR35

    > although a proportion have gone back on new deals that put them outside the regulation

    I'd be interested to know how they managed that. If loopholes exist for these contractors, presumably they also exist for thousands of others, including outside IT. (The new IR35 rules have also hit locums in the NHS - I'm sure they'd be interested to hear of ways around.)

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: IR35

      This is the main thing I noticed in the article as well. If there isn't a substantial change in the actual engagement of the contractors and how they work - how can they now suddenly be outside IR35?

      I mean, they were probably outside it before and the HO shit their pants after they decided they *had* to find them inside IR35 and subsequently lost a major component in their ability to delivery projects. All of a sudden they can deem them 'outside' again.

      @El Reg - there is a story here, please go and get it!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: IR35

      Im no IR35 expert...and I believe nobody is...

      But my understanding was that the changes were to dissuade the one man behind a limited company set up. Therefore the fix is probably ditch the LTD and "work below" a certain number of hours.

      1. nuked

        Re: IR35

        "my understanding was that the changes were to dissuade the one man behind a limited company set up"

        Correct. Before I took a permanent job recently I was about to make my "one man behind my limited company set up" take on an extra employee, which I was led to believe would see me around the problem.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: IR35

          Many of the contractors working on these projects are not directly contracting to the HO. Many are contracting to 3rd party commercial organisations (large IT consultancies), and provided the 3rd party are providing 'services' rather than bodies filling named positions defined by the HO, there may have been a decision that there is sufficient separation that the HO does not need to make an IR35 determination for these contractors.

          I don't know about direct contractors, by thoughts are that probably the contracts have been terminated and renegotiated with changed conditions (to break continuity to prevent retrospective evaluation of the previous tax years) and a significant rate increase to make up for any tax and NI deductions.

          Me, I already work through an umbrella, paying the deemed tax and NI on pretty much everything bar valid expenses, so these changes don't affect me.

          We'll have to see whether the October budget will attempt to impose similar IR35 provisions on non-government organisations for April 2018, because that will probably cause a much greater disruption!

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: IR35

      "I'd be interested to know how they managed that."

      Write better contracts. Ensure working arrangements respect those contracts.

    4. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: IR35

      Watch out El Reg! It seems the home office is after your tagline!

    5. organiser

      Re: IR35

      Probably just a realisation that they are not in a position to direct the work of specialists who knows more about how to perform the actual work at hand than they do.

      But since civil service pay grades tend to be related to the number of people under "management" they have, I assume it's not an easy choice for civil servants to make.

  8. handleoclast Silver badge

    There's only one way to fix this

    Bring in Ian Duncan Smith. I'm serious.

    He's delusional (looking for work should be a full-time job). He constantly fucked the IT side of Universal Credit with his micromanagement. - see many previous Reg articles for details. It's no coincidence that the IT side of UC showed signs of becoming deliverable after the IDS was deleted from the system.

    So bring in IDS. He'll fuck the whole Home Office IT so comprehensively that it can never be resurrected. So it will be abandoned and they'll stop chucking money at it.

    Bringing in just about anybody else (who is acceptable to those in power) will achieve the same end. It's just that IDS can do it quicker because he's so good at it.

    1. Ogi

      Re: There's only one way to fix this

      "So bring in IDS. He'll fuck the whole Home Office IT so comprehensively that it can never be resurrected. So it will be abandoned and they'll stop chucking money at it."

      If past history is any sign, nothing will ever get abandoned by the government. They will just throw more and more money at it, indefinitely. They may rename/rebrand things from time to time, or merge and split with other projects, so the public thinks something was shut down, but that is just pulling the wool over the public eyes.

      After all, they are spending other peoples money on this, no skin off their back, and if they manoeuvre smartly (which they can, otherwise they would not have been successful in politics), they can stick their noses in the money stream as well. In the end they just raise taxes/cut expenditures in other areas, or go into debt (future tax income) for it.

      1. veti Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: There's only one way to fix this

        If past history is any sign, nothing will ever get abandoned by the government. They will just throw more and more money at it, indefinitely. They may rename/rebrand things from time to time, or merge and split with other projects, so the public thinks something was shut down, but that is just pulling the wool over the public eyes.

        So, just like Google then?

  9. Justicesays
    IT Angle

    So how are these aging systems going to handle

    the at least 10x uptick in British citizenship applications by all the long term EU citizens that have married UK citizens, lived here for 20+ years etc but never bothered applying for citizenship as they didn't previously have to?

    Year to March 2016 Applications: 148,497 Grants: 134,659 On basis of residence:68,415 On basis of marriage: 28,323

    I see the latest figures are so far from before the Brexit vote, and even then were up 139%.

    1. MonkeyCee Silver badge

      Re: So how are these aging systems going to handle

      "the at least 10x uptick in British citizenship applications by all the long term EU citizens that have married UK citizens, lived here for 20+ years etc but never bothered applying for citizenship as they didn't previously have to?"

      Just to be a pedant, they are applying for nationality, as we're all EU citizens. Thus they currently already have citizenship (of the EU) and are of a particular nationality.

      Once the UK is out of the EU, then they would be applying for citizenship.

      Since the Home Office auto-reply letters get this wrong, I don't expect anyone else to get it right :)

      The transferring of citizenship is going to be a fairly big issue for brexit, one which (hopefully) is going to be addressed first to avoid too much disruption. It's also one of those areas where the EU team has at least read the relevant laws and the UK's public pronouncements appear they haven't (or are not interested in the legal niceties).

      Essentially the EU is not sure they have the legal power to take away people's citizenship, either individually or en masse. The UK *may* be able to, if it is no longer bound by the ECHR, but that would require some neat timing to achieve. I would imagine that the solution would be in giving people a choice, rather than forcing a particular outcome.

      Whatever happens, there is a current rush of applications on either side of the channel to gain nationality prior to any cut off date, which no-one appears prepared for.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So how are these aging systems going to handle

        Essentially the EU is not sure they have the legal power to take away people's citizenship, either individually or en masse. The UK *may* be able to, if it is no longer bound by the ECHR ...

        Quitting the ECHR will not be enough. The UK will also have to withdraw from the UN convention on the reduction of statelessness, which prohibits taking away citizenship if this will make the affected person stateless.

        Of course, if the UK goverment really wants to withdraw, it would be a relatively easy task to engineer public support for it. Basically reheating some of the pro-brexit sovereignty slogans, plus using the t- and m- words judiciously should do it.

        1. YARR

          The UK will also have to withdraw from the UN convention on the reduction of statelessness

          Why so? Doesn't every citizen of the EU have citizenship of at least one EU member state / nation?

          Isn't the agreement that EU citizens have freedom of movement contingent on them having citizenship of an EU state? For instance, people working / visiting the UK from outside the EU still need a visa to travel to other EU states.

          If someone chooses to renounce their national citizenship, how can they remain an EU citizen without becoming a citizen of another EU state?

          1. hellsatan

            Why so? Doesn't every citizen of the EU have citizenship of at least one EU member state / nation?

            Quite possibly not... I could be mistaken here but if you are born in the UK (since approx 1982) you do not have automatic British nationality unless your parents do. We may well have many people here who have never left the country since their birth, who do not possess British nationality.

      2. Graham Dawson

        Re: So how are these aging systems going to handle

        The EU and the ECHR are separate entities. Quitting the EU would not mean that we are no longer bound by the ECHR.

        Not that it matters much. Per Russia's behaviour, if a country is determined to ignore the ECHR then there isn't much that can be done about it.

      3. veti Silver badge

        Re: So how are these aging systems going to handle

        @MonkeyCee: I don't know about you, but my passport says I'm a British citizen, not a European one. Since, in order to be an EU citizen, you need to be a citizen of an EU member state - it's not clear that "EU citizenship" is really a thing in itself, rather than a derivative property.

        Seems to me it should be fairly straightforward to withdraw EU citizenship from British citizens, while leaving their British citizenship intact.

      4. Bluenose

        Re: So how are these aging systems going to handle

        Do you know something we don't?? UK not bound by the European Court of Human Rights. when did the Tories slip that one in?

        Perhaps you meant the European Court of Justice which is the top court of the EU.

      5. Bluenose

        Re: So how are these aging systems going to handle

        I am also not sure that you are right about the EU not being sure about being able to take away someone's EU citizenship not least because this is from their website:

        Any person who holds the nationality of an EU country is automatically also an EU citizen. EU citizenship is additional to and does not replace national citizenship. It is for each EU country to lay down the conditions for the acquisition and loss of nationality of that country.

        Therefore is the UK is no longer an EU country by default the citizens will lose their EU citizenship. The language is pretty clear to have EU citizenship you must be a national of an EU state. It should also be remembered that the press are already calling for the return of the old blue passport to replace the abhorrent EU red one.

  10. Commswonk Silver badge

    Error in Headline

    Just how screwed is IT at the Home Office??

    There; FTFY

  11. Robert Grant

    Can anyone explain IR35?

    HMRC wants to raise more funds by taxing contractors who work for government 20% off the top, forcing them to charge 20% (at least) more, which is paid for by...funds from HMRC?

    ....what?

    1. MonkeyCee Silver badge

      Re: Can anyone explain IR35?

      The IR35 changes have not a lot to do with HMRC collecting more revenue. It's about making them look busy while fucking the little guy over.

      HMRC (along with most other tax departments) have a quite clear plan for getting more revenue. Hiring investigators, going after the biggest offenders first and enforcing the penalties is guaranteed income. It costs roughly 100k pa to raise an additional 2m pa.

      However, the biggest offenders know this, and so tax departments are restrained, cut and fucked around with as much as possible since those big offenders often are greasing the wheels of politics.

      So as with any real clusterfuck, it takes politics and vested interests to screw things up.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Can anyone explain IR35?

        "The IR35 changes have not a lot to do with HMRC collecting more revenue...it takes politics and vested interests to screw things up."

        In this case, at least originally, Labour party politics and trade union vested interests. Freelancers don't join unions. By trying to shift them into permies the unions would hope to drag them into membership.

  12. Camilla Smythe Silver badge

    I blame Data Bases.

    If you cannot set up an arbitrary record type in memory, save it to a hard disk and recover the same data from the hard disk within the same memory based record without FUCKING FAFFING ABOUT WITH THE INTERMEDIATE SHIT......

    Ohm.. Ohm.. Ohm..

    "Master, they have implemented Data Bases."

    "Interesting. How do they access them?"

    "They use a Structured Query Language."

    "This sounds like an additional layer of shit."

    "Indeed Master I have not been able to penetrate the other layers."

    "Do you think we should gift them our wisdom?"

    "It pains me to say we should let them die of their consequences."

    "Ah well. Set a course for the next one."

    "Yes Master."

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Doesn't help when you have directors in charge of these projects spouting "Infrastructure Free".

    They put people in charge who do not have a clue, yet are capable of fooling the fools into believing their crap, that is the problem.

    Coming from someone who's currently a civil servant in IT.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Coming from somebody who is a consultant (not contractor) to some of these public sector outfits and repeatedly keep slapping my palm against my forehead in between meetings, I agree with you.

  14. Christian Berger Silver badge

    It's not like it's different at any larger company

    For example at the company I'm working at, it took several months for the IT department to set some permissions on a directory. The IT department recently was congratulated for having such insecure system, that one of those encryption tojans hit them. Another, larger, company I was working before, actually had a special software to make Windows even worse. On top of the list of new features of an update was "Disable IPv6".

    The situation is absolutely desolate, in just about any larger coopration, and there is no difference between privately run and public ones. It's just that privately run companies think they can get away with it, as nobody looks at them.

  15. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    so, a new disaster for NHS IT on the horizon.

  16. Ian Emery Silver badge

    Two more disasters here.

    1/ The appalling lack of editorial input (some of the sentence fragments make no sense at all, even when you add missing commas).

    2/ The fact that I am the first person to even point them out means most of you are either self editing as you read, or have actually started to believe you understand the garbage!!

    As for the actual story...... Pope, Bears etc.

    1. Mike 125

      Re: Two more disasters here.

      Really? That's what you pick out of this story? Get a grip.

    2. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Two more disasters here.

      Everyone on the desktop site clicks the "report errors" link.

      It obviously isn't going to get fixed until Tuesday anyway, and I presume the obvious grammatical errors are due to the rush to the pub.

      I note that the mobile site still doesn't have a "report errors" link. That is a shame.

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        Re: Two more disasters here.

        Quite! Having said that my mobile browser allows me to load the desktop variant which allows me to do that (for occasional sports). Not being a student of mobile browsers, not sure how widespread this is, but...

  17. Mike 125

    Hello

    'Traditional' Big IT is going from bad to worse. I predict the following: Google and their 'AI' algos. will step into this bleak, tumble weed, money sucking void. And Govt. will sigh with relief. Why? Because nobody in trad. Big IT has a f'cking clue how to make things better. Whining and whinging about how ignorant Govt. is changes nothing. Trad. Big IT has no f'king clue either. So, Google, bring it on. And we only have ourselves to blame.

    Now, back to the snooker, which is also a bit crap.

  18. Walter Bishop Silver badge

    Just how screwed is IT at the Home Office?

    It's government policy to screw-things-up, as if they did it right the first time it would set an unobtainable precedent the next time round. Government projects are designed to spend lots of money, out-sourced to their rich friends in the private sector, on that they are highly sucessfull.

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