PAC blasts failed Post Office scheme

Commons watchdog the Public Accounts Committee said there was ‘no excuse’ for the basic project management failures which cost the taxpayer Pounds 1bn.

PAC chairman Edward Leigh branded the five-year saga ‘a sorry tale of waste’ and the committee said it remained sceptical whether the DSS, in its new guise as the Department of Work and Pensions, would be able to make a better job of any future IT schemes.

The committee also criticised the Labour government for taking 18 months to decide to scrap the failed project – costing it tens of thousands of pounds.

Former Tory trade minister Leigh said: ‘This is a sorry tale of waste amounting to more than Pounds 1bn.

‘There is no excuse for the department’s failure to manage this project correctly, or for the very laboured process of actually putting it out of its misery.’

Work and Pensions secretary Alistair Darling leapt to the defence of his government and department pointing out that the problems with ‘the pioneering PFI project that had to be scrapped’ began under the previous Conservative government.

But he agreed with much of the committee’s report, pointing out that the government acknowledged that cancelling the project was the right course of action.

The scheme aimed to crackdown on benefit fraud, provide universal banking services and allow the payment of welfare cash direct into bank accounts, while still allowing claimants to receive cash at the Post Office.

Commenting further Leigh said: ‘Better arrangements are now in place for managing government IT projects, but for the moment my committee remains sceptical about the new department’s ability to deliver.’

He concluded by saying: ‘We shall certainly be watching their progress closely.’

Mr Darling said he agreed with a ‘substantial part’ of the committee’s findings, ‘particularly their fundamental conclusion that mistakes were made right at the start of the project in 1996’.

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