PracticeAuditCensus debacle revealed in NAO report

Census debacle revealed in NAO report

Auditors had to be called in to the 2001 Census to investigate complaints of a breach in the rules when a firm of consultants was appointed by single tender for work, which eventually totalled £1m.

Link: Government to use tax records for census

KPMG investigated the irregularity, revealed in an National Audit Office report, which criticised the handling of the Census, including a payroll systems failures which lead to many thousands of field staff being paid late, with some receiving overpayments totalling £500,000.

Procurement consultants Vogue were appointed by single tender in breach of the rules by Census director Graham Jones, a former colleague of Vogue’s principal consultant when both worked for the IT Services Agency of the Department of Social Security.

The former Government Computer Centre slashed nearly £900,000 off its indicative bid to undercut its main rival but ran into ‘significant’ difficulties.

It took 50 staff from the Office of National Statistics three months to clear up the payments mess at a cost of £300,000. Only 30% of overpayments were recovered when the report was drafted.

The Census head of IT Procurement raised concerns over the Vogue contract with the finance director, leading to the investigation.

KPMG found Vogue’s work escalated from an initial report on procurement options to a contract outside ONS standard terms and conditions for work totalling £485,000, which was not properly advertised.

The report lead to disciplinary action against Jones for serious misconduct, although the ONS found Jones acted ‘in the best interests of the Census’ and not for personal gain.

His 8% bonus was slashed in half, but his bonus for the next two years was restored for ‘heavy workload’ until he resigned early in April this year.

ONS reviewed Vogue’s work, finding it ‘excellent’, but revised the contract. They were eventually paid £1m.

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