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Ben Goldacre

By Rat Outzipape

This is an email to Ben Goldacre.
It is necessary to follow this thread through to see what happened.
Hello Ben, Some time ago, when working for the company, Serco PLC, that holds the contract to HMRC for businesslink, I noticed at the bottom of an email a quote from yourself. I cannot find it but the effect was that the businesslink site seems promising and that you thought people should continue to monitor it to see if it did live up to its promise. I am in the difficult position of having worked for Serco PLC on the businesslink account in a technical capacity and having formed very different views. I have a perspective, backed up by my own experience, on the quality of fulfilment in this contract that has a bearing on public IT policy. I think that my views could help inform, in small part, any debate. My principal concerns are 1. the enormous wastage and the corrosive side effect this has by failing to nurture talent 2. the stranglehold of suppliers that government has unwittingly handed to the few large contractors that is anti-competitive and forswears the benefits of a market system 3. the apparent lack of will and means by which government could successfully wrest back control of current contracts and let future contracts on a sound footing so that, for instance, pivotal KPIs are not rewritten by the supplier as they have been in the case of the businesslink contract.

I think that substantial savings are there to be made in software procurement, in some cases in the order of greater than ten fold - a huge claim on my part! But resources would have to be devoted in a persistent and concentrated way to make these savings. With respect to the savings, I hear government and the opposition making promises of savings in this area, but notice that the savings are predicated, more or less, on continuing the same pattern of procurement and project management. Further, if a contract such as Serco's with HMRC, cannot be examined for its failings, then how can any lessons be learnt? Clearly, were it to come down to it, vested interests would exert intense commercial pressure to protect those interests. The stakes could be high. However, my difficulty is that I have not been able to find the 'right' people with whom to express these views. I assume that what I have experience of has more general applicability than in the contract between Serco and HMRC, for this reason I am reluctant to take it up with either of those parties. I am not whistle blowing, exactly. Can you help me find a suitable avenue for these concerns and views?


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