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£3 billion reform agenda under scrutiny

15 January, 2009

The Department of Finance and Personnel Committee Chair, Paul Maskey has stated that initial findings by the Public Accounts Committee on the Reform Agenda indicate that the Department for Finance and Personnel may have difficulties completing the implementation of the three billion pound programme.

Speaking today, Paul Maskey MLA, said, "There is an enormous challenge ahead for the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) to complete the implementation phases of the various Reform Agenda projects and to move to successful operation. In the Committee's view, the Department's capacity to do this is still unproven. In addition, whether value for money has been achieved is still to be demonstrated."

The Committee found that in three of the major projects (Account NI, HR Connect and Network NI), there were problems with both the specification and procurement which could have been avoided through better planning. These difficulties led to both delay and avoidable costs.

Problems with a legal challenge from a company unsuccessful at tender led to a settlement costing the taxpayer over £1.2m. Other procurement issues, including the possible merger of two bidders, led to uncertainty in the tender process with DFP unable to make an informed judgement on future negotiations.

The Committee found that there was a lack of understanding within DFP of the burden that was entailed for effective project leadership and management, demonstrated by appointing one person to be the Senior Responsible Officer for four of the high profile projects, including Workplace 2010.

Paul Maskey said, "There are a number of lessons for the Department. First and foremost, they have a responsibility to ensure that the public receives value for money. To do this effectively they must harness essential skills and ensure that they are deployed appropriately in future projects.

"The absence of measurable data to enable departments to identify baseline costs makes it much more difficult for DFP to demonstrate, and for the Committee to assess, whether value for money has been maximised. Without any clear specification of the benefits at the outset, we may still end up with systems that are not fit for purpose."

"Having said that, the Committee does acknowledge the work currently being completed to identify the full range of benefits that can be realised from these projects as they are rolled out over the next decade and beyond."

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