Government rejects IT recommendations

The government has formally rejected a number of recommendations from a Parliamentary committee formed to look at IT in the DWP

MPs have slammed the government's response to a report into the failings of the £456m Child Support Agency (CSA) system, which criticised the use of "commercial confidentiality" to prevent Parliament gaining access to key information about the progress of major IT projects.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee report in July said the CSA system, designed by EDS, is an "appalling waste of public money" and that it should be scrapped if it is not fully operational by the end of the year.

But the Department for Work and Pensions has rejected key recommendations made by MPs in the report, including lifting the cloak of secrecy surrounding big government IT projects by making the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) 'gateway reviews' public.

The DWP has also failed to address the report's demands for contingency plans, including the abandonment of the CSA IT system, if it is not working properly by 1 December 2004.

The committee chairman, Sir Archy Kirkwood MP, said the DWP had failed to address the "spirit and letter" of the report's recommendations.

“Instead of addressing the Committee's concern, the department defends its secretive approach on grounds of commercial confidentiality and says that it will make information available in the context of the Freedom of Information Act. This isn't good enough," he said. “We will not let the matter rest here."

The DWP has also admitted this week that the CSA is still experiencing problems with cases "sticking" in the system.

During a debate in the Commons, parliamentary under secretary of state for work and pensions Maria Eagle MP said: "The number of cases that are stuck has dropped from some 120,000 to about 40,000. That is progress. I accept that that does not help an individual whose case is stuck, but I can assure the honourable gentleman that if we cannot fix the problem of a stuck case in an IT way, there are manual fixes that can get round that problem in particular cases. We deal with cases clerically in order to do that, but clearly that is not administratively efficient."

But Eagle said improvements are being made with each release of new code, which is part of the recovery programme being led by EDS.