Home Office's DBS modernisation project branded 'a masterclass in incompetency'

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The Public Accounts Committee delivered its damning verdict of the IT project on Friday, with the Home Office and Indian outsourcing giant Tata firmly in its crosshairs

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The IT modernisation of the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) has been branded "a masterclass in incompetency" as it is over four years late and expected to be over budget by £229 million.

The report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which was published on Friday 25 May, gave a damning verdict of the modernisation project, branding it "another example of a Home Office project marred by poor planning and contracting, delays, spiralling costs, and a failure to understand what service users want".

In the report summary, the committee delivered its verdict on the project, stating: "The modernisation programme is over four years late and costs are expected to be £229 million more than initially planned, while the new update service has seen a fraction of the demand expected by the Home Office in 2012. DBS re-evaluated the programme in 2014 but has not done enough to turn the programme around."

DBS is now negotiating with the contractor, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), to finish the programme, but there is "a strong risk that they may run out of time before the contract ends in March 2019", according to the committee.

The project has also been criticised by the committee for not providing customers with the promised cost savings. "Instead of providing savings, DBS is charging customers £13 a year for the update service instead of the £10 expected in 2012, and is holding onto cash generated from the rest of the services it provides, building up a surplus at the expense of its customers", the report states.

The Committee of Public Accounts is appointed by the House of Commons to examine “the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by Parliament to meet the public expenditure, and of such other accounts laid before Parliament as the committee may think fit”.

The project began back in 2012 when the Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safeguarding Authority merged, with TCS winning the contract to modernise the IT systems for criminal record checks within the newly merged DBS.

The report assigns blame to both parties for the failure of the project, stating: "The Home Office and TCS now accept that the contract for modernisation was signed in 2012 without anyone having a clear understanding of what it would take to make the programme successful."

A "flawed contractual approach" was also outlined as an issue, where DBS makes payments to TCS primarily on the basis of volumes of transactions, "with only three percent of the value of payments being related to completing the modernisation programme", the report concluded.

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