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We couldn't deliver prisoner rehab plans because Sopra Steria ballsed up our IT, Interserve tells High Court

Meanwhile, Euro outsourcer claims Interserve failed to pay £3.5m invoices

Interserve has alleged that Sopra Steria's IT outsourcing division caused it to bungle a Ministry of Justice prisoner rehabilitation contract because too many of the latter's staff were signed off sick through stress caused by overwork to deliver on its promises.

In a stinging counterclaim to a High Court case filed by Sopra Steria (SS) in October 2019 over alleged non-payment of £3.5m in contract invoices, Interserve's lawyers set out precisely why the firm's IT services allegedly caused the near-collapse of the whole contract – putting the blame squarely on the French HQ'd IT integrator-cum-consultancy.

SS was providing IT support to Interserve as part of the latter's contract with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to provide prisoner rehabilitation services. IT support covered everything from provision of secure IT networks and servers, phones, app delivery and management right through to end-user laptops, as explained in a 2016 press release published by SS when Interserve partnered with it.

Yet by October 2018 Interserve claimed that SS was unable to deliver promised £5m per annum savings on the IT contract "as a result of employee illness, caused by stress arising from the inability to manage their caseloads" because SS hadn't employed enough staff to meet obligations.

SS even managed to get a key security accreditation for the main MoJ contract downgraded after failing an "IT Health Check", said Interserve in its defence and counterclaim filed with the court, with an MoJ accreditor allegedly describing SS's work as "absolutely atrocious".

"As noted in the Claimant's Root Cause Analysis report dated 8 November 2018 there were 25 critical and 55 high risk security breaches, which largely stemmed from the Claimant's failure to appropriately undertake security and firmware patching," stormed Interserve's legal team.

Interserv directly linked SS's failures to the provision of prisoner rehabilitation services, stating that it was obliged "to submit a plan for the rehabilitation of each individual sentenced at court for a criminal offence and receiving a community based sentence or order".

Sopra Steria's shonky IT, Interserve alleged, meant it couldn't deliver those plans on time between January and June 2018, costing it nearly £124,000 in MoJ contract penalties – which Interserv now wants to claim back from SS.

Other problems included end-user devices locking up and being unserviceable for up to 12 months in some cases. A Skype-based video conferencing system also failed, with SS admitting that "there were intermittent problems with call quality" between 2018 and May last year – but denying any outright outages. A SharePoint server also experienced problems, with Interserve alleging it collapsed more than once and SS only admitting that "there was some downtime" but claiming 98 per cent uptime.

Both companies' managing directors were also said to have exchanged words over the IT contract problems during its lifespan.

Interserve is counterclaiming £4.68m from Sopra Steria, which says in court documents seen by The Register that Interserve was happy with the IT contract framework and further saying that the British business was content with SS's plans to fix problems that arose, though it does admit that there were some issues.

Both companies deny responsibility for MoJ contract failures in delivering community service rehabilitation plans. The case continues. ®

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