Good Governance - Effective use of IT

Written evidence submitted by David Moss (IT 06)

Whitehall, red light district

1 Introduction

1.1 This evidence is submitted in response to the request issued by the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) in their paper, Good governance – the effective use of IT [1] .

2 Credentials

2.1 David Moss of Business Consultancy Services Ltd (BCSL) has 33 years experience in IT and has spent eight of them campaigning against the Home Office plan to introduce government ID cards into the UK [2] . Those eight years gave him some exposure to the ways politicians, Whitehall, trade associations, salesmen, in-house and external consultants and government contractors devise policy and implement it.

3 Background

3.1 In the BBC TV series Ian Hislop’s Age of the Do-Gooders [3] , the editor of Private Eye examined the Victorian civil service. Senior appointments were given to the scions of the aristocracy, he said, who were necessarily incompetent, he implied, and it was only when Sir Charles Trevelyan introduced a meritocratic system of appointments by examination that the civil service and thus our public administration became efficient. Cut to an interview with Sir Gus O’Donnell, head of the home civil service, looking meritocratic.

3.2 We bathe warmly in this myth, but in reality the Victorians ran an empire with just a few thousand staff in Whitehall, whereas we now have millions of civil servants and we can barely run the UK. Look at defence [4] . Education [5] . Health [6] . And the economy [7] .

3.3 Sir Gus is the man who put together the coalition government [8] , like an éminence grise of old. It seems like lèse majesté to say it but the facts can’t be disguised, our meritocratic civil service is no good. Whitehall’s performance is a disgrace. Its failures are documented in the media – nowhere more diligently, oddly enough, than in Private Eye [9] – and nary a viscount in sight. We want, need, deserve and pay for better government than this.

4 Transformational Government

4.1 The failure of Whitehall is acknowledged by Ian Watmore’s paper Transformational Government Enabled by Technology [10] produced for the Cabinet Office in November 2005 – if government was working, it wouldn’t need transforming.

4.2 The problem, according to Mr Watmore and his fellow CIOs (Chief Information Officers), is that frontline public servants don’t know what they’re doing and the solution, he says, is to replace them with computers, give everyone in the UK an electronic identity (eID) and let the computers allocate public services to the eIDs, using data shared between all government departments [11] .

4.3 One question that exercises PASC, where does policy originate?

4.4 Mr Watmore’s strategy is consistent with the European Commission’s five-year plan, i2010 [12] .

4.5 i2010 says that all EU states should move to electronic government [13] , based on

· OSCIE [14] – the open smart card infrastructure for Europe (= ID cards)

· and on Project STORK [15] : "the ultimate goal of the STORK project is to implement an EU-wide interoperable system for the recognition and authentication of eIDs"

4.6 Did the Watmore-style notion of transformational government emanate from the unelected and unaccountable European Commission? Or was it the spontaneous idea of the meritocratic UK civil service? We members of the public don’t know. Perhaps PASC could find out.

4.7 In the five years after the Cabinet Office paper:

· the UK was first an active participant [16] in Project STORK pilot schemes and then lost all involvement [17]

· the Identity Cards Act [18] was first passed and then repealed [19]

· after a not very successful time there Mr Watmore left the civil service to become Chief Executive of the Football Association [20]

· despite our meritocratic civil service, there is absolutely nothing to show for transformational government in the UK

4.8 You would think that the lessons had been learned:

· The Watmore plan is no way to deliver the "understanding of people" that PASC refer to in their paper – if you’re going to offer public services, there is no substitute for the professional judgement and mature experience of frontline public servants. Certainly, computers are no substitute. Whitehall are going to have to stop despising the frontline.

· Governing people is difficult, but that difficulty can’t be avoided. It certainly can’t be avoided by pretending that government is no more than an extended case of stock control and that the civil service’s job is to govern eIDs instead of people [21] . Another PASC concern, the Watmore plan isn’t post-bureaucratic, it’s purely bureaucratic, people are cancelled out of the equation, if anything it’s post-human.

4.9 But no. The lessons haven’t been learned. So much for good governance.

4.10 Whitehall continues to try to implement what looks like i2010:

· after a not very successful time at the FA Mr Watmore is back in the Cabinet Office as Chief Operating Officer of the Efficiency and Reform Group [22]

· transformational government has been resurrected in the Cabinet Office, this time as – bit of a mouthful this one – the G-Digital Programme including the Digital Delivery Identity Assurance Project [23]

· although the Home Office’s ID cards scheme failed comprehensively, its ghost lingers expensively on.

5 The G-Digital Programme

5.1 It is devoutly to be wished that the G-Digital Programme should go the same way as transformational government – nowhere. The best we can hope for is to waste as little money as possible before failure is acknowledged.

5.2 The Cabinet Office claim that by putting all public services in a so-called "G-Cloud" on the web, and by consolidating and centralising and standardising, a new world [24] can be created in which public services are trusted, high quality, efficient and green.

5.3 This is the very opposite of the government’s express desire for localism. The civil service cannot claim with a straight face to be planning to implement government policy – the government wants localism, Whitehall offers centralisation. Far from dutiful public administration, the G-Digital Programme looks more like contumely [25] or contemptuous provocation.

5.4 Mr Watmore strikes again? The G-Digital Programme is an acknowledgement that our meritocratic civil service has produced distrusted, low quality, inefficient and polluted public services.

5.5 How did we get into this mess? Why should we believe that the same people, given lots more of our money, can be magically perfected and do better? No reason.

5.6 If obtaining public services requires access to the web, what happens to all the people in the UK who don’t have access to the web? 9.2 million of them according to Martha Lane Fox [26] . How can the Cabinet Office avoid the charge that these people will be excluded by the G-Digital Programme? They can’t.

5.7 Transformational government made no progress partly because the big departments of state refused to share their resources [27] , particularly the databases they maintain, full of personal information about all of us citizens. Why would they now change and agree to share? No reason.

5.8 There is some safety in keeping our personal information compartmentalised and considerable danger in consolidating it all into one big attractive honeypot. Do we want the departments of state to share? Are we mad?

5.9 How do you deliver public services securely over the web? It’s difficult [28] . And the UK government has never demonstrated that it knows how to do it.

5.10 The G-Digital Programme holds out the messianic hope of a new world while ignoring the practical questions above. It is actually a very traditional and unimaginative sales pitch and we know, not least from reading Private Eye, that all the cost savings promised and all the service improvements promised are traditionally lost in the gulf between theory and practice, between dreams and reality.

5.11 No experienced stockbroker would have his or her name associated with this false prospectus and no reputable stock exchange would list the company.

6 The Digital Delivery Identity Assurance Project

6.1 As far as is generally known to the public, the Digital Delivery Identity Assurance Project consists of one document and nothing more, a Prior Information Notice [29] , telling prospective suppliers of identity assurance services that the government could be interested in using them but there is no commitment to do so and no budget.

6.2 No need to stay in the dark, though – BCSL attended a meeting for prospective suppliers [30] and can shed a little more light on the project.

6.3 The point was made by the assembled suppliers spontaneously, repeatedly and emphatically that they could not be seen to be involved in the Digital Delivery Identity Assurance Project if there was any connection made between it and the Home Office’s failed ID cards scheme. The same point was made by a representative of DWP, the Home Office’s own peers.

6.4 It was the responsibility of the Identity & Passport Service (IPS) to deliver the ID cards scheme. IPS is an executive agency of the Home Office and had responsibility for ePassports, ID cards, biometric visas and the National Identity Register. They were assisted by the Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB [31] ) and by external consultants, most notably PA Consulting [32] . And James Hall, their sometime Chief Executive, held the title Director General of Identity Services.

6.5 This is the organisation that could write in its framework agreement [33] that "in delivering its mission of ‘Safeguarding identity’ IPS aims to be the trusted and preferred provider of identity services " . (Failed.)

6.6 The Safeguarding Identity Strategy Group [34] was chaired by the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office himself, Sir David Normington. (Retired [35] .)

6.7 And here we were at a meeting to discuss identity assurance. Was there anyone there from the experts, IPS? No. HOSDB? No. The Home Office? No. Was there any reference to the ID cards scheme or to the Home Office in the "high-level background information document" mentioned in the Prior Information Notice? No. The ID cards scheme is now unmentionable and IPS has become a negative brand.

6.8 Did the non-executives do their job over the years, or did they and Sir David just sit there and watch IPS implode? We don’t know. What we do know is that five members of the Board of IPS have left since the election in May 2010 [36] . And that IPS’s remaining staff have pulled out of Globe House and retreated to the mother ship in Marsham St.

6.9 With no government money on the table, and no government commitment, prospective suppliers to the Digital Delivery Identity Assurance Project should clearly beware [37] .

6.10 Under their current governance, so should most civil servants – they risk becoming unpeople like IPS.

7 The Identity Documents Act

7.1 IPS were meant to create a National Identity Register (NIR). Following enrolment on the NIR, every UK citizen over the age of 16 would be issued with an ID card. And, from 2012, we were all going to have our fingerprints recorded in our ePassports. The process was to be driven by passport applications – people would be registered when they applied for a first-time passport or for a renewal.

7.2 Announced in the same April 2009 press release [38] , CSC were awarded a £385 million contract to create the new passport application system that would be required and IBM were awarded a £265 million contract to create the NIR system.

7.3 With the passing of the Identity Documents Act, neither of these new computer systems is needed. So the CSC and IBM contracts have been terminated. Yes?

7.4 No.

7.5 These contracts continue to run and, thanks to the new Opening up government website [39] , we know that in the 6½ months between the election and the end of November 2010, IPS paid:

· £36,450,308.92 to CSC Computer Sciences Ltd and

· £29,049,970.35 to IBM United Kingdom Ltd

7.6 It appears that:

· the Identity Documents Act does not do what most people think it does [40] , i.e. kill the old ID cards scheme for good

· Whitehall are not doing what most people think the coalition government want

· a lot of money is going into keeping alive Whitehall’s dreams of a national identity register and a nation of eIDs

8 The Home Office’s ID cards scheme

8.1 In July 2002, the then Home Secretary, Rt Hon David Blunkett MP, issued his consultation document on Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud [41] . The pedestrian give-everyone-a-card-and-keep-a-list scheme proposed there was designed for the Home Office by Intellect [42] , the UK trade association of IT suppliers, and would have been immediately recognised by Sir Charles Trevelyan and all other Victorians, including the Russian Tsars who introduced the propiska [43] system.

8.2 Did the Whitehall meritocrats notice the advent in the intervening 150 years of the mobile phone [44] ? Or of digital certificates [45] ? Probably. But they and PA Consulting [46] nevertheless let the scheme steam on for eight years before it finally hit the buffers.

8.3 There are management standards for government technology projects, most notably the gateway reviews [47] conducted by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC). A green light from OGC means the project can proceed, a red light means it must stop. The results of OGC’s review of the ID cards scheme are well-known [48] : "This has all the inauspicious signs of a project continuing to be driven by an arbitrary end date rather than reality ... I conclude that we are setting ourselves up to fail". The project continued regardless.

8.4 There’s not much point having project management standards if they’re not followed [49] .

8.5 OGC used to be part of HM Treasury. It has migrated now to the Efficiency and Reform Group in the Cabinet Office. In future, it is suggested, in its new home, OGC should be allowed to do its job, particularly strangling misbegotten government projects at birth.

8.6 The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee conducted a thorough review and reported [50] that they were "concerned", "surprised", "regretful" and "sceptical" at the "confusion", "inconsistency" and "lack of clarity" in IPS’s plans for ID cards.

8.7 To no avail [51] . IPS simply carried on with their plans, ignoring the recommendations made. PASC will not want to feel that it is wasting its time like the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. In future, it is suggested, no government project should be able to treat a select committee so disrespectfully – committee recommendations should be incorporated into gateway reviews.

8.8 The ID cards scheme depended crucially on reliable mass consumer biometrics [52] . IPS’s predecessor, the UK Passport Service, tested the biometrics proposed for the ID cards scheme in a large-scale field trial [53] and they failed. IPS ignored the evidence and carried on. They would fail GCSE Science [54] , [55] .

8.9 This matter was brought to the attention of Sir Michael Scholar, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority. He was unable to intervene – he can only act in the case of official statistics, and IPS was operating without any official statistics on biometrics.

8.10 Sir Michael says that [56] "one of the reasons I took this job is that having good statistics is like having clean water and clean air. It’s the fundamental material that we depend on for an honest political debate".

8.11 In future, it is suggested, any government project that depends on a particular technology being reliable should require official figures, checked by the Office for National Statistics [57] , proving that the technology is reliable before the project can proceed. Without that, there is no honest debate.

8.12 And there wasn’t. For example, on 29 January 2009 the Home Office issued a press release, Benefits of ID cards for Manchester ,   containing at least 10 misleading a s sertions [58] . How can that happen?

8.13 The misleading assertions continue. For example, the UK Border Agency continues to spend money on so-called "smart gates" at 10 UK airports. Smart gates depend on face recognition, the most spectacularly unreliable biometric of all. There is no support for the claim that smart gates enhance national security [59] . And yet the money continues to pour out. How can that happen?       

8.14 By the time the ID cards scheme was cancelled, there was nothing to show for it [60] . IPS hadn’t even worked out how to use ID cards to verify people’s identity [61] . They didn’t even have an agreement with other government departments to use the scheme [62] .

8.15 What were IPS and its predecessors and all their consultants doing all day, every day, for eight years?

8.16 And what naïve presumption led them to believe, until Sir James Crosby corrected them [63] , that they were competent to insert their scheme into the nation’s payment systems?

9 Conclusion

9.1 As PASC note, "central government is notorious for large IT projects running over time, over budget and ultimately failing". The remedy reached for in the past was to introduce private sector staff and skills. Whitehall is now knee-deep [64] in private sector consultants and contractors and has been for decades and it hasn’t helped – that wasn’t the solution.

9.2 Whitehall and its consultants ignore scientific evidence, they ignore select committees and they drive straight through OGC’s red lights.

9.3 The "effective use of IT" that PASC seeks cannot be delivered by Whitehall as currently constituted. Their performance proves that beyond doubt and there is no point debating the matter further. They couldn’t deliver transformational government and ID cards. They can’t deliver the G-Digital Programme and the Identity Assurance Project.

9.4 It looks as though every other form of governance has been tried and failed. BCSL suggests therefore that the appointment of senior Whitehall officials should be subject to a vote and that it should be possible to vote them out of office. BCSL is a Whitehall outsider.

9.5 John Suffolk, the outgoing government CIO, suggests that the top 200 posts in Whitehall should be put out to open competition [65] . Mr Suffolk is an insider.

9.6 He is also an advocate of the G-Digital Programme. Whether an outsider or an insider, whether a supporter of G-Digital or not, a number of concerned people seem to be coming to the same conclusion – some major reform of Whitehall is needed before the long-suffering taxpayer [66] will see IT used effectively by government.   

January 2011









[9] Please see for example System Failure – a Private Eye special report by Richard Brookes on ‘How this government is blowing £12.4bn on useless IT for the NHS’, 2 March-15 March 2007, issue no.1179




[13] So did the previous five-year plan, eEurope , i.e. electronic Europe

[14] , please see particularly



[17] We are involved in none of the six current pilot schemes, please see







[24] , please see slide 6 for the new world. Please see also


[26] N B this figure , 9.2 million, keeps changing and was 10 million not so long ago

[27] Please see , particularly the co m ments on “silo government”





[32] and

[33] , please see paragraph 2.2

[34] , please see p.25


[36] James Hall (Chief Executive Officer), Isabel Hunt (Executive Director, Communications and Ma r keting), Bill Crothers (Executive Director, Chief Information Officer and Commercial), Katie Davis (Executive Director, Strategy) and Vince Gaskell (Executive D i rector, New Service Implementation)













[49] It’s not just IPS. The Department of Health don’t pay much attention to OGC either, please see


[51] For related correspondence with the Home Office, please see and






[57] For related correspondence with the UK Statistics Authority and the Identity & Passport Service, please see and Fantasy and the Home Office at

[58] For related correspondence with the Home Office, please see Confusion and the Home Office at and particularly the 4 February 2009 letter to Sir David Normington

[59] For related correspondence, please see Danger and the Home Office at It should be clear from the correspondence that Lin Homer and Brodie Clark of UKBA were considerably more helpful than anyone else BCSL dealt with in Whit e hall


[61] Please see paragraphs 1.3 , 2.6, 3.13-14

[62] ibid ., paragraph 3.8


[64] For example, Michael O’Higgins, Chairman of the Audit Commission, is a former managing partner of PA Consulting. For example, James Hall, retired chief executive of IPS, is a former managing par t ner of Accenture UK. For example, in July 2005, it was revealed that “at least 62 consultants are wor k ing alongside 43 civil servants and one secondee” on the ID cards scheme, please see and