10 years of IT failures, and what has the government learned?

Not much, according to the Public Accounts Committee, which has singled out IT as an area where the government has failed to learn from a long line of costly mistakes

Government departments are failing to learn the lessons from previous failed IT projects and continuing to repeat the same mistakes, according to a report by MPs.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report, Achieving Value for Money in the Delivery of Public Services,  says that despite the PAC's reviews of many high-profile IT failures over the last decade many departments still disregard common and well-publicised pitfalls when they approach projects.

Edward Leigh MP, chairman of the PAC, said in the report: "If one lesson stands out from the work of the PAC over the years, it is that government departments are masters at spending public money but often far less proficient at ensuring that this translates into better public services. Basic errors are repeated time and again."

The report covers all government spending but singles out IT as an area where departments have failed to learn from each other's experience, citing a decade of disastrous projects including the £1bn Pathway benefits card fiasco and the fraud-wracked Individual Learning Accounts system.

The PAC report highlights areas where government departments still need to improve including better planning and more realistic timetables and business cases, stronger project management and assessment of risk, and reduced complexity and bureaucracy.

But Leigh also admitted that a "great deal of progress" has been made in the last 10 years and cited the "valuable steps forward" taken by HM Customs in the use of new technology and the successful negotiation of improved prices for computer software for the public sector.

Leigh said there is still room for much improvement, however: "Given the scale of government spending, just a two percent improvement in the use of resources could generate savings of £8bn a year. That is the same as 2p off the basic rate of tax or could buy 15 large hospitals."

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