Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/373/6116
DWP computer crash - private companies fail public services... again
We need more experienced staff, not less
LAST WEEK, the biggest computer crash in government history hit the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
This is the department where most of the 104,000 job cuts in the civil service are likely to fall.
Katrine Williams, PCS Wales DWP secretary explained to the socialist how the staff had to cope with the crisis.
"Normally we spend most of our time doing workarounds on a completely inadequate computer system. This makes it far more difficult to process a complex benefit like Income Support.
"The chaos last week showed that what is needed is more staff with the knowledge and experience to process benefits.
"We had to work flat out, with just a handful of computers. We did everything we could to issue urgent payments to the public who could get through on busy phone lines.
"The figure of 95% services being provided on the days the computers were down is a complete myth from management.
"The services to the public will completely break down if they get away with cutting a third of our staff.
"We deal with human beings with complex lives who need their claims to benefit sorted out by a human being.
"Even if management could provide us with a proper computer system we would still need all the staff to do the job".
The DWP spent £412.5 million on consultancy fees in the last financial year for external management and technical support, including consultants, advisers, accounts and lawyers.
"JUST WHEN you thought it could not get any worse after the experiences of the CSA we have what can only be described as near-meltdown with IT across the whole of the DWP.
"Yet again we are seeing thousands of hard-working staff, many of whom face the axe, trying to deliver essential services with one hand tied behind their back.
"The Department and the government are hell-bent on axing thousands of civil and public servants, saying IT will enable them to do so, but yet again we are seeing IT systems come to a grinding halt and fail."
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary
EDS, THE multinational responsible for computer systems at both the DWP and the Child Support Agency (CSA) which couldn't perform even the simplest function, is one of the private firms being lined up to implement Blunkett's plans for compulsory identity (ID) cards.
EDS are the largest producers of smart cards in the US, which made them one of the favourites to put together a consortium of suppliers or manage the core database. EDS recently sponsored a Home Office conference on the role of research in policing so presumably they have forgotten and forgiven the difficulties with the CSA.
The firm also recently won a £300 million deal with the Ministry of Defence to 'revamp' the armed services' payroll, Britain's second largest payroll apart from the NHS.
The director of a company that advised Hong Kong on its ID cards reckons that Britain's ID system, needing several different biometric tests, could be worth £3 billion in total.
In The Socialist 4 December 2004:
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news