Welsh Government's £220m IT ‘Merlin’ contract is losing its magic

August 18, 2011 5:34 PM

A major national IT project in Wales has resulted in serious and costly failings. The Welsh Government’s Merlin Programme has come under heavy fire in a report released yesterday by the Welsh Audit Office. Of course, this is not the first example of serious maladministration and waste in national IT programmes. Most notably, the exorbitant cost and overall disaster of the NHS national IT scheme, the National Programme for IT (NPfIT), has led to its recent demise – but not before burning a shocking £2.7 billion of taxpayers’ cash, though.

The same old problems of mismanagement, lengthy delays, poor monitoring and a failure to ‘shop around’ for the best deal has left a large hole in the Welsh finances. The original budget of £220 million over ten years has already been smashed, with the programme landing taxpayers with a £270 million bill in its first seven years. The 10-year Merlin contract for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) began in 2004 between the Welsh Government and Siemens Information Services. It was intended to transform IT services for the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales.

Huw Vaughan Thomas, Auditor General for Wales noted some positives, if you can call them that: “ICT projects delivered under the Contract have brought benefits but their value for money is uncertain”. But even some necessary items, such as software, hardware, new data networks and training were not budgeted for, resulting in an unplanned, additional spend of £24 million.

The report also slammed the Welsh Government’s ability to monitor the progress of ICT projects, which was “hampered by its inadequate reporting of progress against key milestones”. In particular, its project closure documents insufficiently set out “how projects have progressed against original schedules and costs”, a fine example of masterful civil service understatement.

Projects like this show that central government cannot have its hand in every pot. Bureaucrats should abandon their delusions of grandeur and work to provide value for money. We need to avoid creating similar ‘white elephants’. The government needs to cut profligate spending, and these expensive and wasteful national IT projects are a great place to start.A major national IT project in Wales has resulted in serious and costly failings. The Welsh Government’s Merlin Programme has come under heavy fire in a report released yesterday by the Welsh Audit Office. Of course, this is not the first example of serious maladministration and waste in national IT programmes. Most notably, the exorbitant cost and overall disaster of the NHS national IT scheme, the National Programme for IT (NPfIT), has led to its recent demise – but not before burning a shocking £2.7 billion of taxpayers’ cash, though.

The same old problems of mismanagement, lengthy delays, poor monitoring and a failure to ‘shop around’ for the best deal has left a large hole in the Welsh finances. The original budget of £220 million over ten years has already been smashed, with the programme landing taxpayers with a £270 million bill in its first seven years. The 10-year Merlin contract for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) began in 2004 between the Welsh Government and Siemens Information Services. It was intended to transform IT services for the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales.

Huw Vaughan Thomas, Auditor General for Wales noted some positives, if you can call them that: “ICT projects delivered under the Contract have brought benefits but their value for money is uncertain”. But even some necessary items, such as software, hardware, new data networks and training were not budgeted for, resulting in an unplanned, additional spend of £24 million.

The report also slammed the Welsh Government’s ability to monitor the progress of ICT projects, which was “hampered by its inadequate reporting of progress against key milestones”. In particular, its project closure documents insufficiently set out “how projects have progressed against original schedules and costs”, a fine example of masterful civil service understatement.

Projects like this show that central government cannot have its hand in every pot. Bureaucrats should abandon their delusions of grandeur and work to provide value for money. We need to avoid creating similar ‘white elephants’. The government needs to cut profligate spending, and these expensive and wasteful national IT projects are a great place to start.

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