Yet another Government computer has crashed

Yesterday, Tessa Jowell, the Cabinet Office Minister, announced in a statement to the house that Phase 2 of SCOPE, the Governments new I.T system, is to be scrapped at the cost of £24m to the taxpayer. The system was an information technology programme intended to improve “the way sensitive information was shared between and used by Government Departments”. Phase 2, which was due to come online this time last year, was intended to provided additional functionality to the systems put in place by Phase 1.

As readers may recall, this is not the first time the Government has failed to deliver an I.T project. There was of course the failed launch of the EPA2 electronic passport application service. This scheme was supposed to streamline passport application, but instead caused a write off of £5.5m. In addition to this, the Department for Work and Pensions scrapped plans to implement the grandly named ‘Benefits Reprocessing Payments Programme’. After spending two and a half years on the project the Government again walked away at the cost of £141m. Even more astonishingly, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) squandered £245m in the installation of its Joint Personnel Administration Programme. The budget mismanagement that resulted from the implementation of the system resulted in thousands of MoD staff and military personnel being underpaid.

The NHS 'Super-Computer’ is an even larger failure, but that is a story for another day.The failure of these four projects has to date cost the taxpayer approximately £415m. In order to fully understand this figure a little perspective is probably needed. Take into account the following examples. The New Stobhill Hospital being built just north of Glasgow will cost the taxpayers £100m when it is finished (entirely fitted). An inner-city Academy costs on average £20m-£30m to completely construct and equip. A Chinook support Helicopter updated to the same specifications as those operating in Afghanistan costs the MoD £8.8m per unit.

A quick calculation tells me that the opportunity cost of failing to design and implement these systems is equivalent to four new hospitals, 13 new Academies, and 47 new Chinook helicopters. This last point is even more poignant given that young men in Afghanistan are dying due to a lack of support aircraft. Such a profligate use of taxpayers’ money is an absolute disgrace.

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