Scottish Government under fire over £4 million IT scheme

Another troubled multi-million IT project has exposed “very serious shortcomings” in government, a former cabinet minister has said.

Former Health Secretary Alex Neil questioned how many times Holyrood’s Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee, which he sits on, would have to hear about problems with large public sector IT schemes.

Previously, problems led to the scrapping of a £46 million revamp of a Police Scotland IT system, while a new Scottish Government system for farm subsidy cost £76 million more than originally planned.

The SNP MSP’s comments came as the committee took evidence on a £4 million IT project at the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), which regulates Scotland’s social services workforce.

Auditor General Caroline Gardner warned in a report the IT project started when the SSSC split from the Care Inspectorate, is not delivering value for money, lacks a proper business case and does not have a costed budget, aspects of which were disputed by the council’s Chief Executive, Lorraine Gray.

Mr Neil told the committee: “This looks like dysfunctional government to allow this to go on.”

He said there are failures on three levels – the SSSC executive senior management team, the SSSC board and the civil service – adding there are “very serious shortcomings” in government.

Alex Neil MSP
Alex Neil said there were “very serious shortcomings” in government (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

In her report, Ms Gardner said the IT project “lacked good governance and transparent decision-making” but, giving evidence to the committee, Ms Gray said she “does not accept” all the criticisms made.

Ms Gray said there were mistakes in governance, a lack of clarity and the process could have had “vast improvement” but said she would make the same decisions again and called for “some recognition we have delivered this and delivered it successfully”.

She said the project was “well managed” and was delivering benefits, including savings of £416,000 a year.

Ms Gardner told the committee she stood by her report and disagreed with areas where Ms Gray raised what the latter termed “factual inaccuracies or differences of opinion”.

The Auditor General said: “To refer to a differences of opinion in that context probably betrays a misunderstanding of what the role of audit is.”

She added despite “significant” additional documentation from the SSSC no evidence was provided that the organisation fully understood what they were starting at the beginning.

Ms Gardner added she has not seen evidence of the claimed success and savings from the IT scheme.

Auditor General Caroline Gardner
Auditor General Caroline Gardner said she stood by her report on the SSSC (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

She said the Scottish Government team overseeing the SSSC was not “robust and challenging enough” to ensure the council was following guidelines.

In response to questioning by Conservative MSP Liam Kerr, Ms Gray agreed the Scottish Government had been heavily involved and totally accepting of decisions.

Mr Kerr later questioned committee witness Paul Johnston, Scottish Government Director General for Education, Communities, and Justice.

Mr Kerr said: “There was no clear business case, there was no separate detailed budget, there was no cost-benefit analysis and somebody [in the Scottish Government] signed off and said just give them the money?”

Mr Johnston said the whole programme was not signed off at any point and approvals were given through the annual budget.

He said there should have been a business case and lessons would be learned.

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