Money is tight…really?

Scotland’s Corporate Security System

Reproduced from Calum Miller’s Newsletter.

When a computer system needs a budget of £20m, just for testing, its being built to fall over

Calum Miller

7 hr ago

The word ‘simplicity‘ somehow escaped the founding principles of Social Security Scotland (SSS):  ‘dignity‘, ‘fairness‘ and ‘respect‘ are the deep letters boldly chiselled above its door. Here’s hoping it can still afford to meet those fundamental truths after the bill for a new bloated bureaucracy arrives through the letterbox.

SSS is tasked with dispensing some existing and new welfare payments in Scotland. So far its done more to fill the pockets of the usual government contractors and quango hoppers than support the needy. When fully operational, the IT system alone will have cost more than the Scottish Welfare Fund has received over the last 10 years.

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In November 2020, Jackie Baillie MSP asked what direct funding the Scottish Government provides to food banks. If she ever receives an answer, I suspect its zero. A few days later the same government blew £9.1m on specialist “low code” software from a Portuguese provider. Which is odd because 780 full time developers are still “coding” away on the delayed system.

It’s worth contrasting the cost of the Scottish NHS Covid Application (a modest £700,000) with the SSS IT system (an incredible £250m). They are not readily comparable but nor is one 357x more complex than the other to build.

Here’s the difference…

The Covid App had a defined specification that was outsourced to a specialist private company to deliver on a fixed price contract. The SSS system is a moving target being delivered by a Civil Service famed for botched projects but brilliant at serving itself.

At £180m the Scottish Government’s Single Farm Payment System became the world’s most expensive spreadsheet. I fear SSS has ambitions to deliver the most expensive application form.  When a computer system needs a budget of £20m, just for testing, its being built to fall over.

Like the fated Ferry, the SSS system is missing key features like a payment processing module. The Scottish system will piggyback off the UK benefits system but how that works after independence is anyone’s guess. As with energy, this SNP Government is creating more dependencies on the UK state not fewer.

Here’s what needs to change…

Unless the Scottish Government can dramatically reduce the running costs of SSS then it will undermine genuine efforts to make a difference with enhanced Child Payments. Moving more towards a universal income and away from micromanaged benefits would greatly reduce complexity.

The Expert Ferry Group brought industry advice and experience directly into the Scottish Government, changing the approach to procurement. The same is needed with IT to challenge outdated thinking and outrageous costs. There is also a crying need to push more risk onto the contractors who are charging merrily for bums on seats, regardless of delivery.

Last year, Cabinet Minister Ivan McKee promised (and failed) to make all new code, produced by the government, “open and published”.  Perhaps with more public eyes on the systems we might learn why the budgets are heading north and the timelines are stretching out. We could also track change and costs back to ministerial decisions. It’s time to make all software, paid for by the public, open to the public.

An additional 3,600 workers will be needed to run the SSS digital beast, sucking £300m from the economy every year. Scotland can afford independence but only if our government abides by the KISS principle- Keep it Simple Stupid. Building a little-Britain, blindly copying all its vested interests and inefficiencies, will drag us all down.


I thank Calum for his permission to reprint this article from his excellent site which I would commend to all my readers.

I am, as always

Yours for Scotland


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20 thoughts on “Money is tight…really?

  1. I knew someone who worked down in Victoria Quay on the IT systems.The manager had all his knowledge written on a chalk board and he was past it waiting on retiral. Huge budgets and high numbers of expensive consultants.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I remember asking IT if I could purchase a simple tracking system for personnel on leave, training, sickness etc.I had an estimate of £5k from one company. Weeks later I was called to a meeting with a dozen IT personnel telling me what I really needed and that meeting cost more than £5k.

    I cancelled the request and put op a Lego board in my office with different coloured bricks for each type of absence.
    It worked and the key lesson is IT people don’t listen to the customer.

    They solve problems you don’t have and ignore the one you do have!

    Liked by 7 people

  3. A most interesting narrative and about something that many folks will not have knowledge of, but might well have a suspicion about.

    Getting value for money, especially from governments that have been well ensconced for a number of years, is all too often an vanishing thing. In fact when things get comfortable, what euphemistically oft described a poor value for money, if exposed, can be much worse than that.

    The Fergusson Marine ferry contract is certainly testimony to that. And of course some of the NHS personal PPE procurements for masks and the like during Covid were even bigger testimony to what some would say was big time Tory fraud.

    But we have our issues here and it very much seems that Calum is setting out concerns in relation to IT work, to IT contractors, and it is good that he does so. Without exposure things get brushed under the carpet. The SNP government is very deeply enmeshed with business. Many of the SPADs have deep connections with SPADs like Jennifer Dempsey, now Jennifer ( or Mrs Angus ) Robertson being an example oft reported as having commercial connections. Or the reported £9 million given to the MSM newspapers where SPADs and reporters and ministers mingle, go trips abroad, and get involved even in Police matters.

    In fact it was not so long ago that a team of the great and good all headed of to Cannes for a real estate conference. Scottish Enterprise, ministers, council heads, all off to the French Riviera. With developers in tow, dinners and bills paid for, like the jaunt to America where apparently £500 a head spending money dished out, folks raising issues about less than sharp commercial deals – cosy arrangements are very valid, very welcome.

    Anyway, I know little about IT other than that some of it, very expensive IT at that, has been found not to work. And the costs, out of public eye, will be comfortably woven into the accounts.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? And the answer ….” the people themselves! “

    Liked by 5 people

  4. “The Expert Ferry Group brought industry advice and experience directly into the Scottish Government, changing the approach to procurement. ”

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This is getting ridiculous and we should all be raging at the waste of money that the Scottish Government is causing by not listening to sensible informed advice.
    I suspect part of the problem is the UK appointed Civil Servants who have their own agenda which is not in Scotland’s interests. We need to change that I. Order to get control of our own affairs.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. Sounds like the SSS is run on the same lines as the Circumlocution Office which Charles dickens wrote about in Little Dorrit. – a Government Department which was run purely for the benefit of its incompetent and obstructive officials .It probably receives advice from another Government Department – the Circular Economy Office, run by Lorna Slater.

    If you try to make any sense of this you will find yourself going round in circles.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. You can see how the ‘circular economy’ works by looking at the lobby ‘industry’ at work in scotland.

      The government funds the particular interest group and the interest group fabricates the justification for desired policies and,of course, itself.

      For concrete examples, look at those entirely government dependent bodies who have huffed and puffed to keep the dying embers of the salmond stitch up glowing.

      I think the devolution of social security is a dead loss for such a limited government.
      Northern Ireland has long struggled with it due to the lack of economies of scale,as the colony ends up with a follow the leader, parallel bureaucracy with no control over the national policy.

      The delusion that you can just cram years of case law (which is a considerable and ongoing issue in SS administration), into an ‘app’ is just typical wishful marketing.

      Doing it under the watch of a ‘light the touch paper and retreat’ character such as somerville is insanity.

      It is something only an economically independent country can honestly undertake.

      I will also say that UBI is a complete dead end. The main proposals to the scottish government about it by fraser of allander et al make univeral credit look good.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Spot on. If it’s going to take £20 million just to test it you know it’s phenomenally complicated. That the problem when you try and turn complex processes with all kinds of edge cases, particularly law, into software. That’s probably the worst of all worlds as you end up with a software system that cost tens or even hundreds of millions to create and would cost similar amounts to change, if it can be changed at all. Congratulations, you’ve just created a living fossil.

        You could and should use technology to improve efficiency, but the money might be better spent on standard tools and weave these into the processes and procedures. Sadly, for consultants and services companies, this does not result in millions in profits.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. Should be easy enough
      0 replaced by Q
      1 replaced by T
      However as both values can be true and false due to multiple, quicksilver external dependencies, we might have to dispense with formal logic.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. It’s as if the word has went out …..” If you’re not already there , get yourself up to Scotland , they’re throwing money around like confetti : no proven track-record required , no oversight or value-for-money assessment , it’s Boomtime for Grifters – of any kind , Scattercash Scotland . If you’re not in one of the ever-expanding categories of LGBZzzzzz , just say you are , it’s a doddle . Money for nothing and dicks for free ”

    Except if you run a Food Bank , design ferries , require affordable housing or have to travel long distances to find NHS treatment not available in your area . Then you will be referred to the Tory Gov . It’s all it’s fault you see . The SNP/GOV suddenly become powerless . Too bad .

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Couldn’t post on grousebeater’s site but the guardian puff piece is quite extraordinary and emetic:

    “There was a period where I was trying to lead the country through a global pandemic, and at the same time trying to withstand a full-frontal assault by my predecessor to bring me down,” she says, as though she still finds it hard to compute.
    Questions, as roy batty prompted:

    Which country?
    The one with no extraordinary powers within the union? The one that is considered a region by the colonist?

    What did she lead it to?
    The one where pandemicity is now normal?
    The one where she gave the autumn leaves a good shake by forcibly discharging them into already unfit care homes?

    Who was on trial at the time?
    Her sole scrutiny was an embarrassing display before incompetent,soppy nutted and, most importantly, non judicial courtiers.

    What evidence is there of a full frontal (rather sexualised term) assault?
    Her predecessor fought with the law, and won.
    She fought with the state, and lost.

    I will share her feeling that is hard,nay impossible, to compute.

    And that’s just one paragraph of the hagiography.
    As I think its good to maintain an even blood pressure, I will forego the further delights the article might bring me.

    Roy batty said to doctor tyrell:

    “It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker.”

    Liked by 7 people

  9. Excellent response paul.

    Especially. ..”gave the autumn leaves a good shake..And, ” Her sole scrutiny was an embarrassing display before incompetent…..non-judicial courtiers”.

    The sooner she is gone the better for Scotland, She is sitting as FM way way beyond her capacity with the skills required of her for such a role.


    Liked by 3 people

    1. I would disagree, the union could hardly find a more diligent flunky.

      The FM is where she always wanted to be; flattered and indulged by her supposed superiors.

      The FM is a winner and she get all the peanuts in the cage.

      Liked by 3 people

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