Legacy costs take spending on digital border programme to £700m

But Home Office clams there ‘has been no increase or acceleration’ in underlying cost of scheme

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

Costs related to the delivery of the government’s flagship programme for digital services and data at the UK border have risen to almost £700m, with the ongoing need to support legacy systems cited as a key contributory factor.

The Digital Services at the Border (DSAB) programme was embarked upon by the Home Office in 2014 – since when it has been dogged by delays and spiralling delivery costs, which were initially pegged at about £140m, and based on a completion date of March 2019.

The programme is intended to introduce an automated checking service for border arrivals, as well as a new immigration watchlist, which will bring together various existing data sources and platforms. 

Following a reset of the programme, a National Audit Office report in late 2020 pegged the cost of  DSAB at £311m – an increase of £173m. By that point, the delivery date had also been moved back to March 2022 – a timeline that has since shifted back by a further 12 months. The Home Office now hopes to complete work by the end of the current fiscal year, according to recent remarks made by one of the department’s junior ministers: Baroness Williams.

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The minister also stated that, as of June 2022, “the programme has cost £692.8m”.

This figure is more than double the £311m programme costs estimated by the NAO. It is also almost £100m more than the £596m “whole life costs” cited in the latest Home Office data set, which was published last month and provided an update on programme progress as of March 2022.

In response to enquiries from PublicTechnology about the cause of the rise in costs, a spokesperson for the department said that “there has been no increase or acceleration with regards to the ongoing costs of the Digital Services at the Border programme, and the figures referenced are not comparable”. 

They added that the core costs of the programme “remain aligned with figures presented by the NAO” in its report that cited a figure of £311m.

The numbers provided by Williams – whose ministerial brief encompasses Spending Review bids, digital and technology issues, and counter-extremism – include related operational expenses that do not constitute the headline cost of the programme. This includes the ongoing money needed to support outgoing legacy systems that, under the original DSAB timeline, should have been shut down four years ago.

However, the department indicated that, because the systems would still require support even if they were not being replaced, this expenditure is not considered to be a programme cost.

“The £692.8m figure quoted by Baroness Williams and the £311m figure presented in the NAO report do not provide a like-for-like comparison at different dates, the spokesperson said. “For example, the former includes the costs-to-date of maintaining and running legacy IT systems, whilst the latter does not.”

Sam Trendall

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