Maxwell Defends Aspire Contract Management And Replacement

Nov 03, 2014

Government CTO Liam Maxwell has appeared before the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to defend the handling and replacement of a key Whitehall IT contract.

The HMRC Aspire contract with Capgemini accounted for 84% of the Department’s ICT spend (over £8bn) between 2004 and 2014 – around twice the anticipated cost when the deal was signed.

The contract, which is the government’s largest ever, is due to be replaced in 2017 and the new procurement aims to match new Whitehall policies that encourage smaller contracts of shorter duration for greater competition and value for money.

PAC is currently investigating the value achieved through the Aspire contract and the impact that switching to shorter, less costly ICT contracts with more SME suppliers will have following a National Audit Office (NAO) that found the contract had achieved “limited success.”

Last week, Maxwell appeared before the Committee and claimed that the biggest risk to the contract at the moment is that it is managed by a third-party company with different incentives and different control.

“We would like to make sure that we have the control over the programmes that we run in house in order to do that. That is why we have recruited over 100 good new senior leaders of IT,” he claimed.

In response, PAC argued that it understands Maxwell’s arguments for bringing IT in house, but outsourcing Aspire is currently working well.

“This massive change that you are imposing on HMRC, which does not have the world’s best record of dealing with change in IT systems, is jolly risky,” claimed Committee Chair Margaret Hodge.

“For all the appropriate theoretical reasons for going down this route, it seemed to us that insufficient consideration had been given to the risk and nothing matters more than the money we get in,” she added.

New Procurement Approach Successful Elsewhere

Maxwell however, claimed there has been success across government in breaking down contracts and making them smaller and less costly.

“The problem that we have, and the inheritance we have had of 25 years of outsourcing IT, is that people felt it was acceptable to go and buy IT at very high costs and at very high margin without any reference, peer review, understanding or spending control,” the CTO claimed.

“This is part of that spending control process and it is part of the reasons why we have saved more than £14bn over the last year, based on 2010 guidelines,” he added.

Despite this, Maxwell still admitted the £100m limit placed on IT contracts earlier this year was more of a guideline rather than a rule set in stone – following on from comments made last month that open source should only be used when it is the best option.


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