The chief executive of the government’s troubled National Offender Management Service was unable to tell MPs how much EDS has been paid so far for work on the £513 million pound project.
Phil Wheatley also told the powerful Public Accounts Committee that all the people originally responsible for the project, which is running three-years late and twice its budget, had retired from the civil service.
A National Audit Office report in March found that the system costs had doubled to £513 million in a “spectacular failure” of project management.
Wheatley, who took charge at NOMS in January 2008, told MPs that suppliers EDS and Syscon had been badly managed, but added that the situation had been vastly improved.
Nevertheless, when asked how much EDS had been paid under the contract, Wheatley said: “In total I couldn’t tell you what we have paid them.”
A frustrated Edward Leigh, chairman of the committee, demanded: “Give me a rough idea, I want this in public session.” But Wheatley was again unable to answer, promising he would send a note to the committee detailing the information. EDS supplies the base systems on which NOMS has built its applications.
A NOMS review in 2007 concluded that plans for a single database should be abandoned, and instead that three databases with appropriate functionality for prison and probations services should be created.
The government paid EDS £5.8 million to write off development work no longer needed as a result of this change.
EDS is now providing “reasonable service”, Wheatley insisted, adding that like any supplier “they have to be managed well”. The NAO report had highlighted frayed nerves in relations between EDS and NOMS prior to the 2007 review.
Wheatley was unable to identify what work the NOMS project management board had done prior to a re-evaluation of the project in 2007, and agreed it had failed to report on progress and failed to take much action to manage the suppliers.
Asked why the project management board had met “every few months” but had not reported on problems, he said: “I share your amazement.”
The original unnamed Senior Responsible Owner on the project had no IT project experience, the NAO report in March had highlighted. Wheatley said she was appointed as head of NOMS because of her experience with offender management, and had become responsible for the IT programme too. But he admitted he “would have put someone in charge with IT experience” instead.
Other serious project management failures were covered by the committee, including the fact there was no finance team on the scheme to monitor costs, which Wheatley said was a “real failure”. For the NAO report, a second SRO said he knew there were "problems" when he asked for the budget and "was told there wasn’t one”.
The original project planners “did not appreciate” the scale of change required, Wheatley added. “The people who don’t deliver the detail, don’t understand [the scale]. ... It was a big project with people really enthusiastic for change. The big vision was good but not sufficiently grounded in detail.”
It also emerged that in spite of the problems, no one had lost their jobs. All of the “main players” had retired, Wheatley said, except for one who had moved in a restructuring. But, he said, they left “before the scale of the problem emerged”.
In a tense session, Alan Williams MP expressed exasperation at the fact “everyone seems to have disappeared, they’ve all gone into the sand, no one is responsible”.
The committee spent some time, however, acknowledging the progress that NOMS is now making, and asking what steps were next.
There was “considerably enhanced accountability”, stronger contracts, and thorough testing and project assurance, Wheatley said.
Asked whether the project would be delivered on time and budget to the new plans, he said: “We expect to deliver this on its new budget and deliver on benefits.”