Letter: Pros and cons of DSS computers

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The Independent Online
Sir: Tim Kelsey gives a very misleading account of the Department of Social Security's Operational Strategy (' pounds 2.6bn DSS computer 'failure' ', 9 September). The expenditure on the Operational Strategy has increased from the pounds 700m originally envisaged in 1982 to an estimated pounds 2.6bn by 1998. But this is not because costs are 'out of control', nor is it a 'computer failure'.

It is because the first set of projects within the original costings - for example, to computerise income support - was so successful, and is producing such savings, that we have added further projects not in the original plans. These include the computerisation of entirely new benefits, such as disability working allowance and disability living allowance.

The Operational Strategy has enabled the DSS to introduce these large changes within short timescales, and to improve significantly the DSS's speed of response in paying benefits and answering inquiries from the public. It has also produced large savings for the taxpayer - pounds 3.3bn at the last count.

We were not consulted by the authors of the report (Are major information technology projects worth the risk?) referred to in your article. Leslie Willcocks's reported comment that we have 'stopped counting' expenditure on the Operational Strategy is untrue and absurd.

Yours faithfully,

IAN MAGEE

Chief Executive

Information Technology Services Agency

St Albans, Hertfordshire

9 September

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