DWP signs 'unacceptable' £420,000,000 contract

Chris Chant, at the Institute for Government, Thursday 20 October 2011:

I think it’s completely unacceptable at this point in time to enter into contracts for longer than 12 months. I can’t see how we can sit in a world of IT, and acknowledge the arrival of the iPad in the last two years, and yet somehow imagine that we can predict what we’re going to need to be doing in two or three or five or seven or ten years time. It’s complete nonsense.

Reported by Guardian Government Computing, Wednesday 2 November 2011:

The Department for Work and Pensions has awarded a seven year application services contract worth £50m to £70m annually to Accenture, for work including the software needed to introduce its universal credit system.

Or to phrase it another way: something between £50,000,000 and £70,000,000 each year – let’s split the difference, and call it £60,000,000 – for 7 years. A grand total of £420,000,000.

Getting down to business

A couple of potentially interesting launches today.
First came Start Up Britain, which offers an unusual proposition: ‘helping Britain’s future entrepreneurial talent by providing links to the web’s best business resources, along with offers from some of the biggest brands in the country’. You’re greeted at the top of the homepage, somewhat surprisingly, by a photo of David Cameron – looking quite sinister, or is it just me? (No, it’s not.)

The site claims to have ‘the full backing of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and HM Government’, and the big photo of Cameron – which may or may not be connected to the adjacent proposition? – lends credibility to a one-page site which might otherwise come across as yet another attempt to make money from startups: of its four ‘top tips’, two are explicit adverts, and one expects the other two will lead to some monetisation further down the line.
Dig beneath the javascript, and there’s little more to it – for now at least – than a bunch of links and money-off vouchers: so in effect, it’s an online equivalent of the goodie bag you’d get at the door of any one of the many startup exhibitions. Steph said it was hammering nails into BusinessLink’s coffin: that seems premature. But it certainly poses some challenging questions of it.
Then this afternoon, we see the launch of Innovation Launch Pad, a Cabinet Office initiative powered by Spigit – whose recently appointed ‘general manager’ is James Gardner, who joined them from DWP at the start of the year.

Until 22 April, the Cabinet Office is inviting SMEs to ‘pitch business ideas on how you can help to provide better value for money in the delivery of Government’s business… The best ideas will be handpicked by a community of civil servants and, after intensive mentoring from some of Britain’s foremost entrepreneurs, those that demonstrate the highest impact will be invited to present their ideas at a Product Surgery in the summer.  This will stimulate new, open competitions in Government markets in which these suppliers will be able to participate.’ None of which seems to guarantee any business, but anyway.
Coming on the same day, these two initiatives – both sitting somewhere between the public and private sector – certainly point to a different way of doing things, and (I suppose) make tangible Cameron’s notion of an enterprise-led recovery. Both are backed by names with good track records in this sort of thing, so certainly worth keeping an eye on. But do either of them fill me with inspiration? To be honest… no, not yet.

Directgov returns to the Cabinet Office

I couldn’t help smiling at the news of Directgov going back to its original home in the Cabinet Office. Funny how things go full-circle: launched from within the Cabinet Office in April 2004, to COI (an ‘ideal location’) in March 2006, to DWP in April 2008, back to Cabinet Office in July 2010.
The Cabinet Office press release says it will ‘sit in the Government Communications team headed by Matt Tee’, with oversight from Francis Maude and Danny Alexander; but will also have celebrity input:

Today’s move puts new energy behind the drive to get more people and public services online. Martha Lane Fox, UK Digital Champion, will drive a transformation and redirection of Directgov as part of her role advising government on how efficiencies can best be realised through the online delivery of public services.

That’s quite a curiously worded sentence when you look at it. In terms of traffic at least, Directgov is doing well – so you could argue that a ‘transformation and redirection’ of Directgov would be breaking what has so far been a winning formula. But then comes the key word – ‘efficiencies’. I think we know what that means.
And so, Directgov continues to be shuffled around government every two years. But maybe now, with Matt Tee’s Cabinet Office government communications unit holding responsibility for all the key strands of activity, it’ll get the kind of clear, authoritative leadership it’s perhaps been lacking.
Let’s all meet up again here in 2012, and see how it went.

Civil Serf suspended

I’m reluctant to write this solely on the basis of a piece in the Mail (on Sunday?), but it seems Civil Serf has been identified and suspended by DWP.

Investigators hunting for the blogger summoned her to a meeting last week, when it is understood that she denied responsibility. She was told she was being suspended regardless and, when she was ordered to attend a subsequent meeting with the inquiry team, she finally confessed.
She was caught after the Government dedicated a team of computer experts to track her down across the internet. A source in the DWP said it was an extraordinary outlay of resources as the team was told to clear their desks of everything except their hunt for Civil Serf.

OK, if we try to strip away the inevitable tabloid hyperbole, which isn’t necessarily straightforward… this is almost the worst possible conclusion. Denying responsibility was a bit daft, and probably only made things worse. It also leaves DWP looking just a bit reactionary.
What message are they trying to send, I wonder? And what signals does it send about DWP senior management’s appreciation of the way communications are evolving?
Reminder: DWP takes ownership of the government’s flagship web project in a couple of weeks.