Pouring "money down a rat-hole"

The NI Audit office has issued a report on the cost of developing a new computerised payroll system for the civil service here. A system 10 years in development at a cost of £3.3million.. and scrapped before it ever produced a single payslip.

The cost to tax-payers of almost £10million is broken down as £3.3million in the cost of devloping the new system and £6.1million of savings that were supposed to be made, but never were.

Particular failings are pointed out in the Audit Office press release

Although economic appraisals were carried out by the Project Manager in 1995, 1997 and 1999, the Audit Office considers that an independent appraisal would have provided an opportunity for a fundamental examination of the objectives of the project and might have helped to ensure that better decisions were made as to the way forward.


The interdepartmental committee of senior civil servants responsible for overseeing the project was too far removed to operate effectively as a Steering Group and, as a result, it failed to provide effective strategic management of the payroll project

But perhaps the most damning example of incompetent bureaucracy at the heart of the civil service is contained in this line of the report –

During the 13 years of the project, nine different individuals held the chairmanship of the main decision-making and monitoring body.

And, after all the time and money spent on developing this new payroll system, they’re still using a computerised system introduced in 1986 – that should have been “scrapped 10 years ago.”

Now I would have thought that at least one resignation was in order. But given the number of individuals who were placed in the chairmanship of the monitoring body throughout that time I think it’s unlikely that any one of them will be singled out – how convenient.

The full Audit Office report is available online here

  • Belfast Gonzo

    For the sake of accuracy, it was published by John Dowdall, the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland.

  • willowfield

    A disgrace that highlights the need for accountability. We need devolution back.

    Reminds me of the Passport Agency farce a couple of years ago, where similar millions were thrown away on a PFI.

  • Butterknife

    That is no way to refer to the family Swiss Robinson’s expense accounts.

  • Ciarán Irvine

    As a professional codemonkey myself, it never ceases to amaze and astound me the enormous sums the public sector manages to spend on software projects that never work. Remember PULSE? A new computer system for the Gardaí to handle the massively complex task of, ummm, logging all incidents on a central server. They spent, IIRC, years and years and about €40 million euro, and apparently it a) doesn’t work and b) half the stations in the country don’t have any sort of connectivity anyway.

    For God’s sake, I do projects about as complex in requirements as PULSE was all the time. The thing should have taken about 6 weeks to write for any half-competent programmer. Likewise with a computerised payroll system. I mean, payroll. It’s hardly quantum modelling or summat, now is it? Or could they not just have forked out a couple of hundred quid for a copy of Sage?

  • willowfield

    Shouldn’t they refuse to pay the contractors if the system doesn’t work?

    Isn’t it an implicit (if not explicit) part of the contract that they will deliver something at works?!!

  • Ciarán Irvine

    In the real world Willowfield, yeah. I mean if I bungled a project for one of my clients this badly and then tried to send them a big fat invoice – once they’d stopped laughing I’d get my ass sued for a few hundred grand. If I was lucky.

    The public sector doesn’t work that way. It’s completely mad really. Same thing happens with infrastructure projects, the developer can take 6 months longer to build half the road at three times the tendered cost, but he’ll still be paid every penny for his own incompetence and laziness.

    Possibly up to 20% of all State spending is pure idiotic waste – and that’s in the Republic. Given the proportionately larger size of the State in the north, I shudder to think just how much of the subvention is completely unnecessary.

  • George

    “Same thing happens with infrastructure projects, the developer can take 6 months longer to build half the road at three times the tendered cost, but he’ll still be paid every penny for his own incompetence and laziness.”

    Not anymore. That’s what the five year bundling Seamus Brennan brought in is all about. Set fee for building the road, slightly more expensieve but the contractor gets penalised for going over budget.

    Why do you think the Monastereving by-pass was nearly a year early?

  • ulsterman

    oh get over it.Governments waste money.

    God Save The Queen.

  • alex s

    why does the governament pay for computer systems that fail to work, no-one else does!

  • willowfield

    Story in the Belfast Telegraph says the Audit Office criticises the way the contract was written which seemingly allowed the contractor to spend 10 years producing a failed system and still getting paid.