Some recent warmwell items noting the inadequacy of the government IT systems
Despite opposition from MPs . Defra issued a tender inviting companies to submit bids before 12 May to run its IT systems. The deal is worth up to £85m a year, and will run from next summer until at least 2011, and possibly 2021. David Taylor (Labour MP) says DEFRA had rushed to finalise its IT strategy in response to criticism
Oct 1/2 2002 ~ The Drummond Report. Wise before the event.
The government will be finding all kinds of ways to distance themselves from the findings of the EU Draft report on FMD. There will be much made of words such as "unprecedented", "wise after the event" and "best scientific advice". Dr Iain Anderson insisted he had taken "meticulous" care to avoid making criticisms with the benefit of hindsight.
But what was needed to avoid the disaster that befell the UK in 2001 was not hindsight, but the simple removal of Maff's complacent, arrogantly defensive, bureaucratic blindfold which so obstructed their clear sightedness back in January 1999.
In that month, Richard Drummond's report had recommended five broad areas of improvement for the State Veterinary Field Service to improve its state of readiness in the event of an outbreak of disease such as foot and mouth:
In each case, he suggested the formation of working groups to take matters forward - and nothing happened.
- Contingency Planning
- Infected Premises Work
- Use of IT in Outbreak Control
- Staffing and Direction
Stark warnings were made in the Drummond Report. It predicts virtually every disaster that befell the Government in the early weeks of last year's crisis, from the untested nature of contingency plans and the lack of vets, to the problems of disposal and vaccination.
Reading it is heartbreaking. The failures were known and the solutions were recommended in commendable detail. Nothing happened. The answers to the questionnaire at the end of the Report are particularly revealing. (See Drummond Report)
Dec 6 2002~ Systems should rely more on self-regulation and less on formal policing by enforcement agencies, says Lords' report
Of more than 50 items of forthcoming environmental legislation at various stages in the pipeline, two fifths will impact on farm activity in one way or another. The House of Lords Environmental Regulation and Agriculture report says good farm practice must be promoted to reduce undesirable environmental impacts as well as to deliver environmental benefits - but new approaches are needed. The committee recommends:
The report says that systems should rely more on self-regulation and less on formal policing by enforcement agencies and that there are also major impacts, not all of them fully quantified, from EU Directives in particular the Waste Framework, Nitrates, Water Framework and Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directives. The chairman of the Lords European Union Environment Committee, the Earl of Selborne, said: "Farmers are inundated with regulations and advice from many different sources. The burden of paperwork threatens to overwhelm smaller businesses. Government and its agencies need to work more closely together to help farmers meet environmental goals. The key to this is a 'whole-farm approach'." Lord Selborne said the committee welcomed the fact the DEFRA had set up a Farm Focus Division but it needed more money and should have a presence in all regions. We were particularly disappointed to hear it would take 10 years to achieve proper integration of data systems. This is unacceptable," added Lord Selborne.
- A risk-based approach which relies more on self regulation and less on formal regulation by enforcement agencies.
- A true partnership between regulators and the regulated to ensure that workable and effective environmental rules with known cost implications are developed, well in advance of starting dates.
- The new approach should be built around whole farm planning and environmental management systems.
- The Government should support the transition to new regulatory regimes with co-ordinated advice, training, IT systems and infrastructure provision.
- Unnecessary barriers to information exchange (such as the Environment Agency's inability to access data) must be removed.
Feb 21 2003 ~ Ministers are considering a clampdown on cattle movements in a bid to halt the spread of the disease.
Emergency movement restrictions like those seen during foot-and-mouth could be imposed because of tuberculosis in cattle. See DEFRA's Discussion paper on TB control policy options that might be adopted during 2003 which begins with the encouraging words from the TB Forum Secretariat : "Defra, which was established on 9 June 2001, is the champion of sustainable development. This rôle together with the publication of the Policy Commission report on the Future of Farming and Food, "Farming and Food, a sustainable future", has focused attention on the economic, social and environmental consequences of Government policies including those in the animal health field. In particular, the Policy Commission recommended that: In view of England's (sic) abysmal animal health record in recent years, Defra in consultation with the industry need to devise and implement a comprehensive animal health strategy."
The champion of sustainable development continues:
".... ......the transparency of implementation would be much improved by translating EU rules into national legislation more clearly"...and suggests: "Defra would like to remake the English legislation to make clear which parts implement EU requirements and which parts implement additional national controls. ...which might include:Read the whole of this document noting the references to the IT database for VetNet (two years away) and the saving of SVS money by rationalising compensation.
They would definitely include the three main changes consulted on in 2001: a widening of the obligation to report M.bovis to the authorities, prohibition of the movement of cattle between the two days of testing, clarification of the Department's power to impose movement restrictions on herds where the owner/ keeper refuses to have a test done by the due date." .....
- a prohibition on the marketing of live animals from herds with unknown TB status i.e. overdue tests (excluding marketing direct to slaughter);
- the power to ban the sale of milk or the despatch of cattle for slaughter from herds where the farmers refuse to carry out minimum TB testing (e.g. once a year);
- clear reference to the provisions in the Annex to Council Directive 64/432 on how appropriate testing frequencies are assessed and set; and
- pre movement testing and other requirements for the movement of cattle into areas of the country with EU recognition of "officially tuberculosis free region" status or being developed for that recognition.
April 9 2003 ~ "We hope that the RPA will at all times keep its customers - farmers -uppermost in its thoughts." EFRA Committee
The RPA is an Executive Agency of the DEFRA. It is the single paying agency responsible for CAP schemes in England and certain schemes throughout the UK.
The all-party EFRA (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Committee's sixth report of the 2002-3 session into the Rural Payments Agency Among its main conclusions (external link) are:
- administrative errors were a major cause of subsidy delays after the introduction of cross-checks with the cattle tracing system
- the agency should not regard the electronic delivery of services using email or the internet as a panacea for its problems. "Late payments on bovine systems look likely to continue until the new IT system is up and running."
- the agency should try and simplify forms as it moved to electronic forms "we are not yet fully persuaded that the RPA is treating simplification of such forms with sufficient urgency. The matter should now be given the highest priority" (paragraph 17)
- "The Rural Payments Agency is a new organisation which has faced early problems. Some of these were not of the Agency's making while others, such as the complexity of IACS forms and low customer satisfaction, indicate areas which need prompt attention if the payment of CAP claims is to move into a new era of efficiency as promised. We welcome the steps which have been taken, and we urge the Agency to do more. We hope that the RPA will at all times keep its customers - farmers -uppermost in its thoughts.
April 12/14 ~ Defra issues £1.4bn IT outsourcing tender - "the last desperate act of an IT-illiterate top management" says David Taylor, Labour MP
article by Gareth Morgan in vnunet.com (external link) "....despite opposition from MPs. Defra will issue a tender today inviting companies to submit bids before 12 May to run its IT systems. The deal is worth up to £85m a year, and will run from next summer until at least 2011, and possibly 2021. .....David Taylor says DEFRA had rushed to finalise its IT strategy in response to criticism
(i.e. here re Rural Payments Agency report by EFRA Committee "The importance of the new IT system cannot be exaggerated: it will facilitate all of the activities of the Agency.")from a Select Committee that it lacked one, rather than develop an IT strategy to meet the Department's needs....Taylor, a former IT manager at Leicestershire County Council added that his 18 years' industry experience had led him to conclude that public sector outsourcing is "the last desperate act of an IT-illiterate top management" and that "IT suppliers often regard government as a cash cow"....From HP Sauce: In the Tearoom (Private Eye 2-15 May)It's good to know someone in Parliament has spotted that outsourcing IT systems in the public sector frequently ends up being a costly mess.Leicestershire MP David Taylor, a former IT manager, condemned the decision to invite the private sector to run IT services for the department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) as "as astonishing as it is unnecessary" and the "last desperate act of IT-illiterate top (civil servants) drowning in a whirlpool of technology".Earlier this month Defra invited companies to tender for the £1.4 bn deal. The contract, due to start next summer, would include looking after the livestock and land registers, including disease monitoring, which were so vital in attempting to bring the foot and mouth epidemic under control.The environment, food and rural affairs select committee has previously strongly criticised the department's "woeful approach"to IT, but rather than try to improve, it seems Defra thinks it can buy a solution.Previous experience (such as the Inland Revenue's troubled contract with EDS and IT Net's disastrous management of housing benefit and council tax systems in Hackney) suggest it won't be easy.