Scottish committee to probe ‘broken’ ICT procurement

Senior ICT business figures could be called before a Scottish Parliament committee amid claims there is “something very wrong” with the procurement system.

The Public Audit Committee will take evidence from Scottish Government permanent secretary Leslie Evans in two weeks’ time.

It comes after spending watchdog Audit Scotland issued a report in June warning that “significant progress is still needed” in the management of ICT contracts in central government.

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However, the committee is also considering holding a roundtable session in the new year to hear from firms within the Scottish ICT sector.

The suggestion, mooted by Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon, follows concerns over a new ICT system to implement Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms.

Medical helpline NHS 24 also announced this month it was shelving a new £117m call handling and ICT system amid fears for patient safety.

Scanlon said: “Instead of always listening to officials, I spoke to an ICT company last week who told me that on the government’s procurement list there are 15 companies, one of which is a Scottish company and that the Scottish IT sector gets four per cent of the public sector spend.

“I would like to suggest that we ask in representatives from an SME [small to medium-sized enterprise] in Scotland and a larger company to try and get a better understanding of why this continues to be a problem.”

Labour MSP Richard Simpson claimed a “very major contract” recently awarded saw the successful bidder then sub-contract to the unsuccessful one.

“Now I find that extraordinary, if the main contractor was unable to deliver without going to the sub-contractor,” he told MSPs during yesterday’s committee meeting.

“Who is making money out of that? There is something very wrong with our procurement system.” 

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead confirmed last week that the first Scottish direct farm payments should begin arriving in bank accounts by the end of this year.

Audit Scotland has found the estimated cost of the Futures Programme is now £178m, up 74 per cent on the figure cited in the original business case.

The largest element of spend relates to the IT delivery partner – £45m in 2014/15, more than twice the amount forecast – revealed the watchdog.

Scottish Lib Dem MSP Tavish Scott said: “If ever there is a company that deserves scrutiny, both I suspect from the government’s point of view – and Audit Scotland are clearly doing that – and more to the point from this committee’s point of view, it’s that particular example because it’s so over budget.”  

SNP MSP Colin Beattie claimed it would be difficult to get “meaningful evidence” from firms, while Nigel Don suggested consultants not involved with specific contracts may be able to speak more freely.

Committee convener Paul Martin said a paper would be produced by a clerk for MSPs on options to bring businesses in to deliver evidence.

Colin Marrs

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