Thursday, 15 October 2009

Accenture’s Rural Payments Agency contract slammed by NAO

(By Tola Sargeant, Thursday 15th October, 17:30) The National Audit Office’s third report on the Rural Payments Agency’s system for processing farmer’s subsidies will make uncomfortable reading for the agency and their supplier Accenture. The system has so far cost £350m, more than five times the original contract value of £64m.

The NAO said the system was unnecessarily complex, highly customised, at risk of obsolescence and showed ‘scant regard for the proper management of public funds’. It costs an unbelievable £1,743 to process a claim using the RPA’s system in England compared to just £285 under the Scottish system. Moreover, problems with the software have resulted in up to £90m being overpaid to farmers. On the positive side, the NAO did concede that the agency’s relationship with Accenture had improved and that payments were being delivered to farmers more quickly.

With Whitehall eager to find ways of reducing spending, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the RPA looking closely at alternatives when Accenture’s support contract for the Single Payments System comes due this year. But in reality changing suppliers would be very difficult – according to the NAO, changes to the system, including Oracle source code, have gone unrecorded, which may make it impossible for new suppliers to take over existing contracts. And with the agency facing hefty EU fines if it misses payments to farmers, the Accenture system would need to remain in place until any alternative is up and running. Accenture won't be complaining though - according to the NAO it has over 100 full-time contractors at the RPA, each costing an average of £200,000 in 2008/9.

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