Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Recipe for Rip-Offs

This has just been published by the UK Parliament's House of Commons Public Affairs Committee:
Public Administration Committee - Twelfth Report Government and IT- "A Recipe For Rip-Offs": Time For A New Approach". Unfortunately only available as html pages and not as an entire pdf. We will therefore give you the Summary ...

"Information Technology (IT) plays a fundamental role in the provision of public services. However, despite a number of successful initiatives, government's overall record in developing and implementing new IT systems is appalling. The lack of IT skills in government and over-reliance on contracting out is a fundamental problem which has been described as a "recipe for rip-offs".

IT procurement has too often resulted in late, over budget IT systems that are not fit for purpose. Given the cuts that they are having to make in response to the fiscal deficit it is ridiculous that some departments spend an average of £3,500 on a desktop PC. This Government, like many before it, has an ambitious programme aimed at reforming how it uses IT. This Report sets out what the Government must address if these reforms are to succeed where previous attempts have failed.

We found that government is currently over-reliant on a small "oligopoly" of large suppliers, which some witnesses referred to as a "cartel". Whether or not this constitutes a cartel in legal terms, current arrangements have led to a perverse situation in which governments have wasted an obscene amount of public money. Benchmarking studies have demonstrated that government pays substantially more for IT when compared to commercial rates. The Government needs to break out of this relationship. It should do this by:

i. Improving its own information. The Government's own information about its IT is woefully inadequate. This lack of data means that governments have failed to benchmark the price it pays for IT goods and services; this data must be collected centrally to allow the Government to obtain the best possible price from the market.

ii. Publishing more information. The Government has already started publishing large amounts of information about its expenditure as part of its transparency agenda. The Government should go further and make public not just information about how much its IT costs, but also about how its systems run. All IT procurement contracts should be published in full to ensure transparency and restore trust. This would allow external experts to challenge current practices and identify ways services could be delivered differently as well as more economically.

iii. Widening the supplier base. The Government must expand its supplier base by promoting fair and open competition and engaging with innovative SMEs. To widen the supplier base the Government needs to reduce the size of its contracts and greatly simplify the procurement process. It must also adopt common standards and ensure that systems interoperate to eliminate over-reliance on a small group of suppliers, and commoditise where possible. Most importantly, departments need the capacity to deal directly with a wider range of suppliers, especially SMEs.

iv. Working in an "agile" manner. The challenges that government seeks to address are constantly changing. Often the IT systems that government develops are already out of date before they have been implemented. The Government needs to move towards the use of agile and iterative development methods which enable IT programmes to adapt to changes.

Above all, to address these challenges successfully, the Government needs to possess the necessary skills and knowledge in-house, to manage suppliers and understand the potential IT has to transform the services it delivers. Currently the outsourcing of the government's IT service means that many civil service staff, along with their knowledge, skills, networks and infrastructure has been transferred to suppliers. The Government needs to rebuild this capacity urgently.

Finally, we outline our own vision for how the delivery of public services online could be reformed through a combination of data release, giving individuals control of their own personal records, engaging users in the design and continuous improvement of services and opening up the delivery of online services to a greater range of organisations.

The Government has set out its own milestones for success in its ICT Strategy. We shall be returning to this topic to monitor the Government's progress against these targets, and the recommendations set out in this Report."

The government did not want to tell me how much it was paying Microsoft for deliverables in the NHS IT programme when I made a FOIA request.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Split up the Happy Family

Since November 2010 a foreign spouse overseas cannot join her spouse legitimately in the UK unless s/he passes an English language test.

This stinks! Just imagine ... Kezia's leukaemia relapses, I take her to the UK, Nanda who does not have UK citizenship is obliged to speak "basic English" ... whatever that means. Well, what it means is this ...

"1.2 Will there be a procurement exercise?

We are using the existing list of test providers approved for the purposes of Tier 2 of the Points Based System as a basis for the new spouse list. We have written to Tier 2 providers inviting them to indicate their willingness to be included on the new approved list for spouses and to confirm that they provide appropriate A1 speaking and listening tests. Those who provided a favourable response have been automatically confirmed as a test provider for the spousal route. Existing Tier 2 providers were appointed through an open competition and offer English language tests at the same level (A1) required for spouses.

We intend to undertake a full procurement exercise for providers of English language tests in the near future. The date for this procurement exercise has not yet been set."

At present English Language Test providers are as would be predicted - Camridge ESOL (University of Cambridge), City and Guilds, ETS (American), Pearson, Trinity College London.

Three couples are taking this to court as racist etc. See the BBC report here.

See the Home Office regulation here

Funnily enough São Tomé e Príncipe is one of the countries listed as exempt as it does not have a Test Centre. I am surprised Somalia is not on the list . you mean one of the test providers listed above has a test centre there!!!! Here are the others:

  • Angola²
  • Burkina Faso²
  • Cambodia²
  • Cape Verde²
  • Central African Republic²
  • Chad²
  • Comoros¹
  • Congo4
  • Democratic Republic of Congo4
  • Dominican Republic5
  • Equatorial Guinea²
  • Eritrea4
  • Gabon¹
  • Guinea³
  • Guinea-Bissau¹
  • Ivory Coast³
  • Kiribati¹
  • Lesotho¹
  • Liberia³
  • Madagascar²
  • Maldives¹
  • Rwanda4
  • Samoa¹
  • Sao Tome Principe¹
  • Seychelles¹
  • Sierra Leone³
  • Somalia¹
  • Swaziland¹
  • Togo¹
  • Wallis and Futuna Islands¹
Soon they'll be doing away with Language Line saying that all immigrants speak English!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

First Libyan 419 Scam?

From: Salim Fadi Salim of Libya

Hallo, As-Salum'Alaykum.

Please I want to come to your country from Libya with my family and I need your help. I have luggage with significant asset worth few million American dollars I want to send across to your country through diplomatic carrier ahead of our arrival but destination. Please can you receive the luggage on my behalf and welcome us as your guest when we arrive to your country?

Please reply to this mail and help me with your particulars to enable the agent helping me (Mackenzie Logistics) to register and book the luggage for shipment/airfreight to you.

I would like to speak with you but the war has effected most actives services, telecommunication network, hospitals, schools etc, however my number is 00218 917884074, sometimes the phone works but most times it doesn't, you can try to call me maybe I will be lucky, but send your
direct number so I book call to you through satellite payphone service.

Please I apologize.

Thank you (Shuran)

From Salim Fadi Salim of Lib

Al 3 Fajjar, LBY, Gregarage Tripoli, Libya