back to article UK.gov IT projects that are failing: Verify. Border control. 4G for blue-light services. We can go on

The Home Office’s plan to shift the blue-light services to 4G has been branded unachievable, its Digital Services at the Border project is at high risk of failure and five other tech projects are facing deep issues. The department’s progress on its major projects have been scrutinised as part of the Infrastructure and Projects …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    [Sniff][Sniff]

    Smell that? That's the smell of preparation for control to be taken back.

    LOLZ

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: [Sniff][Sniff]

      Smell that? That's the smell of preparation for control to be taken back.

      Not quite. It's the smell of a "blamewall".

      I was seconded from my private sector employer to work on a high profile government project a few years back, and I reported back to my employers that the project structure appeared to be solely for the purpose of creating a third party to take the blame for what was inevitable failure. Needless to say, the project fell flat on its face, all of us have paid for it, and the disgusting lightweights of the senior civil service have cruised on in different roles towards their fat, unearned pensions, and probable entry in the heavily be-shitted New Years Honours list.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: [Sniff][Sniff]

        Been there, sean that (in that case the FCO - with a career diplomat on a two year rotation running the farce from the FCO side)

      2. Mike Pellatt

        Re: [Sniff][Sniff]

        That's exactly what the GTR franchise was set-up for, too.

        I don't expect Failing Grayling's investigation to point that out, though.

      3. colinb

        Re: [Sniff][Sniff]

        They should lose 1% of their pension for every 1 million project overspend. Project Budgets aligned to market rates of course.

        Only way to change the failure merry-go-round

    2. streaky Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: [Sniff][Sniff]

      Smell that? That's the smell of preparation for control to be taken back.

      Nuhuh. And it'll all be better with EU procurement rules.

      Oh wait, this is happening under EU procurement rules, wonder if there may be something wrong with them? Maybe not but wouldn't it be nice to be allowed to modify them.

      Also btw the remainers, MPs, Lords, press, EU and the executive all confused on this concept of taking back control - and sovereignty - this isn't something for government, it's about voters being able to affect control of exactly this stuff. No more excuses, valid or not, that it's somebody else's fault. That's why a lot of people in government don't like it - because they'll be expected to actually do their jobs.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: [Sniff][Sniff]

        No more excuses, valid or not, that it's somebody else's fault.

        Haha

        Hahahahahaha

        Hahahahahahahahaha

        You really, really think they won't carry on blaming someone else, and people won't keep believing it ??

        That there won't be a new BoJo to spend 10 years building up a caricature of some organisation or other (probably the WTO after Brexit...) that bears no resemblance to reality, and then campaign for us to leave it based on their caricature.

        I salute your misplaced confidence.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: [Sniff][Sniff]

        >Oh wait, this is happening under EU procurement rules, wonder if there may be something wrong with them? Maybe not but wouldn't it be nice to be allowed to modify them.

        Just for comparison, can you provide figures comparing the failure rate of UK government IT projects with other EU government IT projects. If the figures are the same (and I genuinely don't know either way), then it implies a problem with the procurement rules. If the UK figures are significantly worse, then surely its down to the management of the process by the UK government?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: [Sniff][Sniff]

          That would be an interesting exercise.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: [Sniff][Sniff]

        So the EU planned the projects?

  2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    £5.1 BILLION ?

    How the Belgium do you spend £5.1bn on giving the police/fire/ambulance cell phones?

    Wouldn't it be cheaper to just give everyone in the country a nice £100 ZTE from alibaba and then if a passing policeman wanted anything they could ask a member of the public?

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: £5.1 BILLION ?

      @ Yet Another Anonymous coward

      "How the Belgium do you spend £5.1bn on giving the police/fire/ambulance cell phones?"

      Fleece the tax payer. When you can just demand more money regardless of poor performance little niggles like delivering the project on time or on budget become things of the past.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: £5.1 BILLION ?

        The question wasn't why - that is obvious - it was HOW !

        Are they employing 100,000 programmers on £50K pa for 10years?

        Are they supplying managers with fresh Lamborghini company cars every month?

        Are they serving Dutchy original shortcakes at meetings?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: £5.1 BILLION ?

          "The question wasn't why - that is obvious - it was HOW !"

          For that price I would expect a home grown radio network and huge break through in the field of radio communication

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: £5.1 BILLION ?

            For that price I would expect a home grown radio network and huge break through in the field of radio communication

            For that price I would expect not only police phone boxes on every street corner - but they should travel through time and space AND be bigger on the inside

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: £5.1 BILLION ?

      \It's not as simple as just replacing radio handset with a mobile phone, although that's probably why things have gone so right on the project plan - people in power thought it was that simple.

      The National 4G network didn't exist outside of larger cities, much of the countryside was lucky if it had a single 2g provider let alone 3 or 4G. The killer apps for the service, push to talk voice were not standardized and the rest of the software suite for different users wasn't thought about yet. The things that actually do the bread and butter work - the control rooms didn't exist, and how they would work depends on the technology track taken. Then there is how to test it and where Airwave, that it was to replace, acted as a system integrator for everyone on the older system. This time to make more 'competition' it was all split up with the Home Office in complete control - one could argue, not quite in their skillset. Oh, and they might have forgotten about the time to refit every vehicle with a blue light on it as well with a finite number of people in the UK that can do that to the rigorous safety standards that are required for some of the users when all this was finalized. That and for some of it - nobody bothered to bid. Airwave was specced in the 90's, of course, it doesn't do mobile data well. If it was about saving money then look at Germany / Norway or Austria who have just finished rolling out their systems the same as airwave. It's fit for their purpose there then it should have been fine to keep here with a bolt on for mobile data or a wifi hotspot in every blue light vehicle. But that doesn't pad CV's or get you a well-paid job once you've entered the private sector. AC for obvious reasons.

      1. Ledswinger Silver badge

        Re: £5.1 BILLION ?

        \It's not as simple as just replacing radio handset with a mobile phone,

        Well, not wishing to be confrontational, but it is. All of the capabilities they want are essentially from a premise "my smartphone can do all this, wouldn't it be great if the emergency services had a rugged version of this?"

        And the top brass love this idea, because with real time data flows its a chance to interfere ("help") the operational managers in the field. By essentially supervising the poor buggers in real time, criticising and countermanding their decisions.

        And in turn, that's why its such a shit idea, from start to finish, for the technical reasons that you list, but because the last thing emergency services need is some smartphone alec "helping". If my house is on fire, I want the crew manager and the firefighters doing what they need to do without "help", oversight, or micromanagement from brigade HQ. The same if I get run over - I want the paramedics doing what they have chosen to dedicate their life too, not waiting on some poor quality video link to an outsourced doctor in Bangalore.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: £5.1 BILLION ?

          We got a tender for this fiasco a few years back in a company I used to work for that made ruggedised smartphones, and having been forewarned by El Reg that the whole thing was a disaster waiting to happen, I had to beg the salesguy not to get involved.

        2. sova

          Re: £5.1 BILLION ?

          As someone who was in this business I can definitely say that certain functionalities of the system could be handy. E.g. a full and up to date text about the despatch received on the personal radio. Or maybe location data pinpointing to an incident site with correct directions. And access to PNC from the PR. This of course works in vehicle based Mobile Data Terminals (MDT) but not all coppers operate in cars. So basically voice over 4G is a gimmick but access to all the data on personal radios would be just perfect.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: £5.1 BILLION ?

            Had all that data capability working over RAM mobile data 20+ years ago. In-car, yes, but I think in the intervening time extending it to personal devices would have been fairly easy.

        3. Peter D

          Re: £5.1 BILLION ?

          The UK system is a much more capable system (well, hopefully) than the system being used in parts of Austria. It requires improvements to the EE infrastructure, bespoke handsets from Samsung and software services from Motorola. On paper it is very advanced and it will have hardly any reliance on drop in temporary infrastructure. The UK system has to operate 12 miles offshore.

    3. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: £5.1 BILLION ?

      "How the Belgium do you spend £5.1bn on giving the police/fire/ambulance cell phones?"

      To be fair, that's not quite how it works. The whole issue with the project being flagged as red is that they're spending £5.1bn on not actually giving the police/etc. anything at all.

  3. SVV Silver badge

    Amber Rudd's old department got an amber-red warning

    That's the only amusement that can be drawn from this hyper expensive cavalcade of stupidity and incompetence. Ever considered spending a little money on recruiting people who have the knowledge and experience to help prevent these sort of things happening? Or do they still have magic faith that "the market" will magically deliver great results through awarding contracts to the same old lowest bid charlatans who then clean up on the cost overruns later?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Amber Rudd's old department got an amber-red warning

      Not at all - this was a plan to give the contract to the lowest bidding charlatan in order to save billions on the cost overruns of the previous contract that was given to the lowest bidding charlatan.

  4. Chloe Cresswell

    Wouldn't it be quicker to list current government projects with an IT part that was on target?

    Seems that would be the shorter list...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Wouldn't it be quicker to list current government projects with an IT part that was on target?

      I think the tea kitty at the NAO is running on a BBC micro and is working well

      1. Chloe Cresswell

        Well, of course. It's a BBC. Anything designed to try to offset complete destruction by school kids is perfect for government work.. ;)

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It sure seems like purposefully wasteful gross incompetence in the public sector and purposeful gross incompetence in the private sector all to pad pockets at the fleecing of the taxpayer. It appears that lowered educational standards have been a boon to the private sector when working on public projects.

  6. Teiwaz Silver badge

    So, any takers on the chances of the the country just collapsing into a heap the moment ties are severed with the EU?

    If the current projects started before Brexit are in trouble now, and the urgent Brexit ones are hardly started yet...

    It doesn't look good.

    1. Thoguht Silver badge

      This is why I have a cupboard stacked with canned food and bottled water.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        This is why I have a cupboard stacked with canned food and bottled water.

        This is why I have a garage stacked full of spam along with two cupboards and one wardrobe packed tight with bottles of malt whisky.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Can I come to your place then?

    2. Christoph Silver badge

      Don't worry, the government reckon that they have very nearly agreed on what their negotiating position with the EU will be. Probably.

      1. Nick Kew Silver badge

        @Christoph

        I wouldn't rely on that. We have a big and nasty news decoy (novichok case) lined up to distract media attention from another mess when the cabinet get together. And serve as an excuse for fudge: ("big emergency, all hands to the pumps, have to truncate all else").

      2. Claverhouse

        @Christoph

        Don't worry, the government reckon that they have very nearly agreed on what their negotiating position with the EU will be. Probably.

        Bebe: Oh, there're so many to choose from. Kneeling, crawling, grovelling. I'm sure he'll pick the right one.

        Frasier. The Zoo Story.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >Don't worry, the government reckon that they have very nearly agreed on what their negotiating position with the EU will be. Probably.

        I'm still waiting for all UK businesses to realise that they are going to have to examine just about every business process to see if it is affected by the "Brave New World", never mind the costs of re-writing them....

  7. Jan 0
    Unhappy

    > However, as IPA boss Tony Meggs noted, the report does not consider the "mega-programme" that is extricating the UK from the EU. . .

    If Brexit is a mega-programme, where’s it happening and why haven’t we heard about it? Where are all the vacancies and contracts? The Brexit programme that I hear about is dwarfed by the projects in this article, some of which must therefore be giga- or tera-programmes.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "If Brexit is a mega-programme, where’s it happening and why haven’t we heard about it?"

      Like all other consequences of Brexit it will only become visible on Brexit day. Or, in this case, some time after because it takes some time to work out the requirements. IoW, don't put off any long contracts for something else; you'll have time to do those and come back to get on the gravy train although by that time the gravy will be little more than boiled water.

    2. veti Silver badge

      Presumably they would need to add new colours to the spectrum to capture the full awfulness of the Brexit "project".

      I suggest octarine, since clearly the whole thing will only work by magic.

      1. $till$kint

        Please no, not octarine!

        Described as a kind of greenish purple. Greenish. Green.

        "It's ok everybody, there's a hint of green in there. We're on track! Now, about that early retirement package with matching knighthood....."

  8. MR J

    So taxpayer money getting dished out to people who are overpaid and underdeliver.

    What is this story about?... It should be changed to "Just another Day in the good ole UK"

    I have seen this same type of problem with Recycling, the Tax Man, NHS, Universal Credit (LOL), the "Charity" groups that councils set up so they can subcontract things out without scrutiny, and so many other things that it's just laughable.

    This is not a "IT" or "Tech" related issue, it's more along the lines of corruption or incompetence across all sectors of government.

    At least they are not asking us to install some sort of smart meters at our house for electricity that has cost us £28 million each to install so far... Oh wait.

    1. FlossyThePig

      Smart? Meters

      Ah! Smart Meters communicate using 2G.

      Mine's the one that is SMETS2, if it works with V2G (Vehicle to Grid).

    2. grizzlybaz

      Couldn't agree more. I've been (un)fortunate enough to observe multiple public sector organisations at close quarters through various engagements and it's always the same. The issue is, as ever, one of mindset. The real skills are in the contractors, and we all know what's happening to them in the public sector at the moment, whilst the civil servants can comfortably cruise through their careers, not taking accountability, not really learning any valuable skills, and generally under no threat of termination if they fuck something up. I spent 18 months contracting at said Home Office a good few years ago and the permies there spent more time taking umbrage over the fact they were losing their day off for the Queen's birthday (the union discourse over that one was a joy to behold) and bitching about their pensions, than actually doing the jobs they were supposedly employed for in the first place. Nothing in this article surprises me because it's always the same. "Home Office receives red alert from NAO for <insert project name here>."

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    FAIL

    Anyone notice how prominent the Home Office is in this list of clusterf**kery?

    Quite prominent in fact.

    On the upside

    If nationwide surveillance of email, telephone, text message and internet access was implemented by the same incompetent motherfu**ers the UK might still be a relatively free society.

    However with secret budgets you can hire the most expensive, who might even be good at their job.

    Which would say quite a lot about the priorities of those who have power in the UK.

    1. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Re: Anyone notice how prominent the Home Office is in this list of clusterf**kery?

      However with secret budgets you can hire the most expensive, who might even be good at their job.

      My experience on MoD contracts (back in the 1980s - I've avoided it since) suggests otherwise. Secrecy was a great cover for spectacularly bad work.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        Secrecy was a great cover for spectacularly bad work.

        TBH that would be my suspicion as well (I noted BAe subsidiary walked away from the public national ID card scheme but they very involved in the very secrete "Controlling the Internet" project out of GCHQ).

        And where BAe leads, massive cost overruns are sure to follow.

        But without inside access it's impossible to know.

        Which is why "It's secret" should always be viewed with extreme suspicious as a cloak for "We spent a f**kload of money and achieved little or nothing but we don't want anyone to know because y'know, it could make us look bad."

  10. bigphil9009

    Head above parapet

    At risk of getting shouted at, and I don't believe in Big G's ability to deliver lots of complex IT services at the same time, but I recently used Verify.gov when the time came to renew my passport and I thought it was pretty good! Dare I say it but it was joined-up, painless and quick.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Head above parapet

      Agreed. Just renewed my passport online, and it was a pretty good experience from an end user perspective.. Online self assessment for personal tax and online filing for Companies House has also improved significantly over the past 2 or 3 years.

      But the amount of red and amber ink in that report does make me dispair

  11. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    It's a pity that all this agency can do is issue warnings. If it had power to fire the incompetent and claw back payments for poor work and missed deadlines it might actually do something useful rather than tell us what we already know.

  12. Mike Pellatt

    DartCharge. Still crazy, sorry, alpha after all these years.

    We're now over 3.5 years since free-flowing (sic) charging was introduced at the Dartford Crossing.

    Also known as DartCharge.

    The payment service for this is still in alpha. Yes, alpha. A live service. Nearly 4 years after it went live.

    You really, really, really couldn't make it up, could you ?? And these clowns think they can get a technological solution to managing tariffs without turning Kent into one sodding great lorry park ?? I don't think so.

    https://www.dartford-crossing-charge.service.gov.uk/Home/Choose

  13. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Sounds Familiar

    It sounds like the your fleecers are what we call minor leaguers over here. They need to take a few lessons on fleecing the tax-payers as we have a couple who are extremely good at it.

    Seriously, why do most governments seem to think outsourcing IT projects are always a good idea? It is as if they have no internal competency to undertake any projects internally. This would mean they probably have little competency to manage an IT project as there is no one internally who can point problems, review specs, and call bullshit when the vendor tries to pull a fast one.

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: Sounds Familiar

      @Yank - I think you're right. Technical development is tough enough for companies that specialize in it. Most big companies who do it overspend on big infrastructure or platform developments. Imagine trying to manage it in an organization which doesn't understand the basic process, is owned by politicians who, by and large, have no technical education and is run by civil servants who have no technical education and whose career development is based on keeping your head down, not making mistakes and supporting (covering for) a boss (minister) who might have absolutely no qualifications or experience of the department s/he is responsible for. Indeed, the minister might never have had a proper job in their life.

      Given the role of tech and IT in every day life I'd expect a government to have a whole department that specializes in it, with real, permanent career opps for tech pros who could develop the capabilities and relationships required to work in an environment where not just the management, but the whole philosophy of the organization can change every 5 years. They've tried to do it with DE&S (the defence procurement agency) - which sort of works but, in my experience is still hampered by politics and they are driven by cost, not value.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If only the government could come up with some kind of IT project management framework....oh wait

  15. Yorkshirefoxy

    Sir Humphrey Goes Digital

    When managers don’t understand something they want to control it even more. Just say it’s a bunch of iPhones/iPads and they’ll leave you alone. The less they know the better the outcome. If only a large rock could smash into managerland and make them all extinct! You could get all the Sir Humphrey’s to have a meeting with them at the same time, job done!

  16. Geekpride

    @streaky

    EU procurement rules allow discretionary exclusion of companies "where they have committed offences or undertaken activities relating to misrepresentation, undue influence on procurement procedures, grave professional misconduct, agreements to distort competition or demonstrated significant or persistent deficiencies in the performance of a public contract". That seems like ample grounds for the UK government to exclude their usual outsourcers; that they choose not to do so is purely the fault of the UK.

    As for your suggestion that UK voters will be able to affect this stuff more after Brexit, I have seldom seen such stupidity. In case you haven't noticed, cabinet ministers - who are theoretically responsible for this stuff - tend to get given safe seats where a donkey could get elected if it was standing on behalf of the correct party. That's not going to change.

  17. gregsih

    Here's a thought ....... Maybe if HMRC stopped trying to wipe out the IT Contracting industry some of these projects might be delivered on time.

  18. doug_bostrom

    We can expect plain sailing with MaxFac. History tells us we should be confident. Of course history also tells us that such a project will conclude only after a couple of decades, two or three prime contractors, several low-level ministerial ritual executions, money multiplication factor of 5-10X. But we may be sure that it might succeed in the end.

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