Northern Ireland Assembly
Contract Extensions Cost Taxpayers more than £120m says Committee
The Northern Ireland Assembly Public Accounts Committee yesterday published its Joint Report on Management of the NI Direct Strategic Partner Project – helping to deliver Digital Transformation and The LandWeb Project: An Update. The report focused on a project designed to deliver digital transformation to the Northern Ireland Civil Service, in the form of the NI Direct interface, as well as LandWeb, which was a project to provide online access to Northern Ireland’s Land Registry, the Registry of Deeds and the Statutory Charges register.
The Committee examined the two projects – both awarded to BT – to look at the way each project were awarded and managed, and whether they provided value for money.
William Humphrey MBE MLA, Chairperson of the Committee yesterday said,
“When we began this inquiry and took evidence from the Permanent Secretary and other officials from the Department of Finance, frankly we were shocked at the inadequate negotiation and management of these two contracts.
“One thing that really stood out for us was the number of times these contracts were rolled over, to the benefit of BT. In the case of NI Direct, the Department misunderstood the terms of the contract and was forced to extend it for three years as a result of failing to put alternative delivery mechanisms in place. With regard to LandWeb, a new tender will not come into force until later this year, meaning that the contract will have been in place for 25 years, eight years beyond the original timeframe.
“The result of these contract extensions means that the Executive has increased its payments to BT by over £120 million, more than double the original contracted values.”
One of the findings that concerned the Committee was the lack of clarity in how the LandWeb project accounted for their earnings. This meant that it was difficult for the Department to determine the level of profits being earned by BT. At the same time, where the Department had access to NI Direct accounts, it did not regularly examine these. Both of these failures provided a significant opportunity for BT to realise very large profit margins at the expense of both citizens and fee payers.
Finally, the Committee was surprised that Department witnesses who gave evidence were unable to answer questions about events that occurred before they took up their posts. This was a situation considerably different to the normal practice with respect to previous inquiries and made it difficult for the Committee to ascertain exactly what had occurred during the early years of the contracts.
Committee Chairperson Humphrey concluded,
“All Executive department contracts should and must provide value for money, both for the consumer and for the public purse. We feel very strongly that all Departments need to take immediate steps to guarantee that contracts are managed effectively. This not only includes providing staff tasked with managing contracts with the necessary skills and experience, but also ensuring that projects have staff continuity.
“The recommendations we have made in this report must be implemented if local people are to have confidence that public monies are being allocated and spent with regard to value for money considerations.”
Notes to Editors
LandWeb is a Public Finance Initiative (PFI) project, managed by the Department of Finance’s Land and Property Services Division and delivered by British Telecommunications plc (BT). It provides online access to Northern Ireland’s Land Registry, Registry of Deeds, and Statutory Charges register.
The Digital Transformation Project originally saw BT being awarded a contract in 2012 to provide IT solutions, skills and capabilities to support the migration of citizen services to online provision. The contract funded a contact centre, developed 13 major applications, two major consultancy contracts and a number of cross-cutting applications across various central government departments.
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