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MSPs raise concerns about ‘confusing evidence’ over accountability for Scottish social security IT system

MSPs raise concerns about ‘confusing evidence’ over accountability for Scottish social security IT system

Scottish Parliament - Image credit: Holyrood

A Holyrood committee has raised concerns about responsibility for delivering the Scottish Government’s new social security system.

Accountability is “absolutely essential” to prevent further IT failures, the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee warned.

In a letter to the Scottish Government’s director of digital, Colin Cook, acting committee convener Jackie Baillie said it was “disconcerting” to hear “confusing evidence” about who was ultimately responsible for delivering the new social security IT system.

Cook had been appearing before the committee to give evidence on a recent Audit Scotland report on lessons learned from public sector IT projects.


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Baillie said the report “clearly demonstrates that there is a significant problem for the Scottish Government and other public bodies to address”.

She added that it was “essential that the Scottish Government’s new suite of initiatives make a positive difference this time, as the cumulative loss to the public purse and loss of public confidence from previous IT failures has been substantial.”

Baillie complained, however, that is was not clear which public bodies are covered initiatives such as the Scottish Government’s new Assurance Framework and the Central Government Digital Transformation Service.

The letter from the Holyrood committee follows a string of recent public sector IT failures, including NHS 24, Police Scotland’s i6 programme and the CAP Futures programme for farming subsidies.

In the past five years, the Scottish public sector has spent around £4bn on IT, including more than £856m in 2015/16 alone.

The committee has requested a number of updates and clarifications, including clear lines of accountability for the social security system and how different parts of the public sector are working together on IT programmes.

Other queries relate to IT vacancies in the Scottish Government, calculations of the costs of IT for social security, the calculation of potential efficiency savings through digital quoted at £1bn and what checks being carried out on academics giving professional advice to ensure no conflicts of interest.

Baillie also asked for the committee be given six monthly updates on the progress of all major IT projects.

She said: “Our ultimate goal…is to be reassured that decisive action is being taken whenever there are clear signs that a major IT project is going off track. The updates should therefore bear this aim in mind.”

The committee has requested a reply by 18 December, with the first of the six monthly reports due in May 2018.

Commenting on the letter, Baillie said: “The recent string of IT failures clearly demonstrates that there is a significant problem for the Scottish Government and other public bodies to address.

“With this in mind, the Scottish Government must be clear about who is ultimately accountable for the delivery of IT projects.

“It is essential that the Scottish Government’s next digital initiatives are successful, as the loss to the public purse and loss of public confidence has been substantial.

“That’s why our committee has written to the Scottish Government to outline our concerns and request updates on major IT projects in the future.”

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