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Andrew Selous: What mechanism would be appropriate to ensure proper accountability to Parliament in relation to these issues? Does my hon. Friend think, like me, that measures similar to the Clinger-Cohen Act in the United States could be the answer, or do we need an uprising in desire from the Government Back Benches for greater parliamentary scrutiny?

Mr. Goodman: That is a good idea. In fact, I should put on record that there has been scrutiny from the Government Back Benches this afternoon. We had some very strong scrutiny from the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd), who very ably recommended himself to the Department as a kind of freelance IT consultant—

Rob Marris: Or CSA chief executive.

Mr. Goodman: Even that, perhaps. We also had scrutiny from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), and others. If a Select Committee sends its report to the Government and no answer comes back on key recommendations, all we can do is keep up the pressure on Ministers. I have tried to do that, as have my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), the hon. Members for South Derbyshire and for Northavon, and the Chairman of the Committee. After this story of non-co-operation, the Committee is entitled to an apology.

3.21 pm

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Alan Johnson): I should like to join other Members in thanking the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Sir Archy Kirkwood)—along with his Committee and, indeed, his Sub-Committee, which produced the report on IT—for securing this debate on an issue that is rightly of great concern to the House. I also thank him for the way in which he introduced the debate. His tone was measured, and he got to the root of the problem without seeking to turn this into a party political debate.

May I say to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) that I think that it is the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) who has "sloughed off" this afternoon? I should like to have seen him in his place. The hon. Member for Wycombe said that he had not heard any complaints about that yet; let me be the first to record one. A Select Committee that is enhanced by its chairmanship is a little diminished by the fact that the hon. Member for Havant is not here to reply to the debate and has left that task to the hon. Member for Wycombe, who is a member of the Committee. Indeed, two of the Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen on Department for Work and Pensions affairs sit on that Committee, which rather confuses the issue. To be fair, the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who is also a member of the Committee, like my hon. Friend the Member for South
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Derbyshire (Mr. Todd), did not make a party political speech on an issue that concerns the whole House equally.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): Shame!

Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman will now be in trouble with his party Whips.

Mr. Goodman: I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would put on record the respect in which he thought I made a party political speech.

Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman should just read Hansard. I think that he made a party political speech; he aimed to say that the Government had somehow been curiously guilty of IT failures. I remember, however, something that happened under the previous Conservative Government, because I was involved with it as general secretary of the Communication Workers Union. They had a marvellous idea called Horizon—the payment card initiative—which I fully supported. It was an absolute disaster. Members need only read the National Audit Office report on it. The developer was also the financer; it was one of the most incredible errors by a Government on an IT case that we have ever seen.

Having said that, I think that modern IT developments offer enormous opportunities to businesses, public services and the way in which individuals conduct their day-to-day lives. That is why this debate is so important. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 52 per cent. of households have access to the internet at home, with almost 60 per cent. having used the internet in the past three months to buy or order tickets, goods or services, 36 per cent. using it for personal banking and financial services, and 23 per cent. for looking for a job or sending a job application.

As the Select Committee's report makes clear, the challenge facing the Government is to exploit the power and opportunities presented by modern IT, which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) mentioned in the debate on the Queen's Speech. Meeting this challenge has meant taking on a number of very big projects, including those involving significant expenditure, and it is right that they should be closely scrutinised by the House.

We have moved from large private finance initiative projects to smaller off-the-shelf solutions. The CSA project was the last of the old style. None of the projects, however, is risk-free, and only by taking on such projects are we able to harness the power of IT to help to deliver better public services more efficiently. I hope that the House understands and accepts that in doing this we are bound to encounter some problems, and that such problems are far from unique to government—they are also experienced by the private sector, as we all know from the publicity that surrounded the recent difficulties that Sainsbury's encountered.

Indeed, a survey undertaken by Oxford university and Computer Weekly on the IT projects of 1,000 project and programme managers, found that one in 10 IT projects were abandoned, three quarters were challenged, and only 15 per cent. succeeded, with similar
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results for both private and public sectors. Those findings are not limited to the UK, as there is a similar story in the US. Last year's Standish Group survey of more than 13,500 IT projects in the US found that only one in three projects were successful; that on average, cost overruns were 43 per cent. and time overruns 82 per cent.; and that only half the required features and functions made it to the final product.

One of the best defences against such problems, which was mentioned in the debate, is having high-quality staff, and in particular sufficient numbers of appropriately skilled people to negotiate contracts and monitor IT suppliers effectively. In 2002, the DWP was the first Department to recruit a chief information officer, who is a member of the executive team and responsible for the delivery of the DWP's IT projects. The DWP has also recruited a series of top individuals, predominantly from the private sector, who have experience of operating and negotiating IT contracts and delivering IT services and projects. Those appointments include five information systems directors, a chief technology officer and a sourcing director, with a director of IT service delivery currently being recruited.

We therefore take on board the argument about the need for expertise in the public sector. We have been working to transform the overall capability of the Department's IT function. The objective is to move to a smaller and more professional approach, reducing overall staff numbers by more than half, but increasing skilled resources in key areas such as sourcing, risk and portfolio management. By bringing in experts in IT and procurement, the Department will build a high-calibre team of professionals able to deliver a world-class information system and IT service to the Department.

Andrew Selous: To save vast amounts of taxpayers' money, and to ensure value for money, is the Secretary of State able to pay such consultants what he needs to pay them to ensure that he can get absolutely top-class people to do the job in the hand?

Alan Johnson: I think that we are—the pension is good, as everyone keeps telling us. Certainly, from the standard of the people who are applying for these jobs —I will talk about the CSA chief executive in a minute—we believe that we are offering appropriate terms and conditions.

Rob Marris: In terms of the people being hired by the Department, and the people who have joined since two years ago, can my right hon. Friend say a little more about whether any of those individuals, at that level or lower, have the skills to do the software, computerisation and business transformation development? Does the Department now have hard expertise in computer matters, or does it merely have better expertise in supervising procurement, which, to me, the list that he read out suggested?

Alan Johnson: This is a debate about the management of IT systems, but from my understanding, the people concerned do have the necessary qualifications. Certainly, those whom I have met are well acquainted
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with the more techie, nerdy, anoraky end of IT projects, if one wants to use such terms. Indeed, it was specifically for those capabilities that they were recruited from the private sector. That is a key part of the progress we are making towards being better equipped to tackle the challenges that still face us. We are seeking to improve our expertise in IT, but also in addressing the business-change aspects of major IT-enabled transformations. For example, we have a programme director from the private sector for child support reform.

Let me deal with some of the key issues that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire made two points. He expressed concern that we had rushed into the CS2 project. It was originally supposed to go live in October 2001. The then Secretary of State decided that it was not ready, and his successor decided that it was not ready the following April. It eventually went live in March 2003. I do not deny that there were problems, but there was no mad rush to get CS2 up and running.

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