Government Digital Service under review after rural payments cockup

Audit follows IT disaster that resulted in farmers being underpaid

Whitehall's spending watchdog is to review the achievements of the Government Digital Service in light of the Rural Payments Agency's IT disaster.

In an update note on the Rural Payments Agency's Common Agricultural Policy IT system on Monday, the National Audit Office said it will shortly be undertaking a review of GDS's achievements and the challenges it faces.

In particular it will look at whether government is supporting better use of technology and business transformation in its work.

"This recommendation was made in the context of senior management failures arising from the RPA, the Department and GDS not working together effectively, and not being able to resolve differences in strategic priorities and visions," the report read.

The Common Agricultural Policy IT system (CAP-D) was intended to be a GDS digital exemplar under the new Basic Payment Scheme payments system.

The system went over budget by 40 per cent to £215m, and will incur penalties from the EU of £180m per year in the early years of the CPA-D system as a result of disallowance payments.

Earlier this year the Public Accounts Committee said of the failure: "The Government Digital Service was created to help improve IT projects, but instead hindered delivery of this programme."

In its report, the NAO said: "The RPA has continued developing the IT environment without further significant involvement of GDS. The RPA told us that GDS's withdrawal from the programme has enabled a change in the implementation approach, including reverting to a more traditional deployment and release cycle rather than the continuous deployment approach that GDS had previously advocated."

Some 6,900 of farmers received at least €1,000 (£890) less than they were entitled to in their initial Basic Payment Scheme payment, said the report.

It said the RPA missed its March 2016 target for the proportion of claims paid by 8 per cent. As of October 2016, a total of £1.39bn has been paid to farmers under the BPS scheme.

In September, the European Commission conducted its first audit of the RPA for disallowance penalties following the introduction of the new payment rules and the failure of the CAP-D system.

However, the NAO said although those "initial results have been communicated to the RPA, these are subject to a potentially lengthy process of challenge in order to determine the final level of any penalty". In other words, we don't know yet how much Europe intends to fine us.

But tensions between the departments have now eased, it said. "Over the past year, GDS has been assisting with other aspects of the Department's work including its transformation programme, and the department has told us that its working relationship with GDS has recently been more constructive." ®

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