GDS Faces Review by Public Spending Watchdog

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is set to be reviewed by public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO), in order to “examine its achievements and the challenges it faces”.

 The review comes as a result of criticism by the NAO over GDS’s role in the Rural Payments Agency IT systems that led to a new digital service for farm subsidies being withdrawn in March 2015.

The NAO also revealed plans to take a fresh look at GDS.The NAO report said: “At this stage, we have not examined how GDS now engages with other government departments to ensure it offers the support needed.

However, the NAO will shortly be undertaking a review of GDS’s achievements and the challenges it faces, looking in particular at whether the centre of government is supporting better use of technology and business transformation in government.

“This recommendation was made in the context of senior management failures arising from the RPA, the Department [for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and GDS not working together effectively, and not being able to resolve differences in strategic priorities and visions. No changes have been made to formal processes in response to the recommendation; however, cultural changes are being made that aim to reduce tensions that may arise in the future. GDS is no longer significantly involved in the [RPA] programme.”

A previous NAO review into the RPA problems cited “inappropriate behaviour” among senior leaders in GDS and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) as a major factor.

Costs of the project spiralled from an initial £154m to £215m – 40% over the original budget.

The latest NAO progress report said: “GDS had a significant involvement in the development of the IT systems and we reported previously that it did not provide the support the department needed.

“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.”

The report added: “The department has told us that its working relationship with GDS has recently been more constructive.”

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