PracticeConsultingPPP funding of public sector IT projects at risk

PPP funding of public sector IT projects at risk

The future of the public-private partnership approach to funding public sector IT projects is in 'real danger' according to the chief executive of the office of government commerce.

The Whitehall buying arm is dissatisfied with the increasing number of failed IT projects, and will now consider alternative funding arrangements.

And the situation has got so bad that suppliers even lie about their capabilities in order to win contracts. Speaking at the Strategic IT Partnerships in Government conference, Peter Gershon, of the OGC warned the government was tiring of seeing PPP’s fail.

‘There is little evidence that the IT industry has an understanding of what is needed to make these partnerships work,’ he said. There is ‘a real danger’ that PPPs could be scrapped, because of the perception in Whitehall that ‘naive public sector clients were being taken for a ride by contractors’, Gershon said.

Poor project management within the public sector had caused a number of IT projects to fail, but suppliers were also culpable, said Andrew Pinder, the government’s e-envoy.

‘Some projects have failed because suppliers have lied about their capability, and promised things they can’t deliver,’ he said.

Previous failures, such as the Libra project to update the magistrates’ courts computer system, could have been avoided by applying some simple management practices, said Dr Tom Abram, chairman of modernising government at parliamentary lobby group, Eurim.

‘There has been a fear that simple project management techniques won’t work; they don’t seem appropriate for the scale of government projects, but I think this makes it worse,’ he said.

But the government was not alone in seeing IT projects fail, said Gershon. The government would consider not only how it bought technology in future, but also whether IT could actually deliver business enhancements.

‘Unless suppliers make it a hell of a lot easier to buy and implement IT, clients will become disaffected and vote with their pockets,’ he said.

The OGC has been developing frameworks for successful IT projects, introducing independent reviews throughout the procurement process, and assigning so called ‘senior responsible owners’, charged with overseeing the work.

A guide for successful partnerships is due to be published imminently.

‘But it is not sufficient to have just client-side reform. Where do we see open admissions of industry’s weakness and what they’re doing to address it?’ said Gershon.

– For government PPP/PFI information, see pfi.ogc.gov.uk/govlinks.asp.

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