EXCL Parliament spending watchdogs slammed as cost of new IT system nearly doubles

Posted On: 
21st May 2019

Parliament's expenses watchdog has been criticised after the cost of its multi-million pound new IT system nearly doubled.

The new IT system is set to cost taxpayers over £8.2m.
Credit: 
PA

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) estimated its new digitised expenses sytem would cost £4.6 million to build and would be up and running by 2017-18.

But over three years later, the system is still not fully functional - and the bill has soared to more than £8.25 million.

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Ipsa chiefs have said the "unexpected" general election in 2017 was partly to blame for the rise in costs.

The overspend is the latest blow for the watchdog which has faced criticism for its high running costs since it was established in 2009 in the wake of the MPs' expenses scandal.

In response to a written question from MPs, the parliamentary body said the overspend was also driven by a "longer than anticipated" testing phase.

"The increase in cost was due inpart to the unexpected General Election of June 2017 which diverted all Ipsa work for up to nine months to supporting MPs who left or joined parliament, and increased supplier costs," they said.

"Costs also increased following our change of suppliers in September 2018 to improve the quality of Ipsa's IT support.

"Ipsa also spent longer than anticipated on testing the new system so that Ipsa could have confidence that it would be fully secure and free of technical problems.

"The increases in cost have been partly mitigated by savings elsewhere in Ipsa's budget."

'TONNE OF BRICKS'

Ipsa, who are also responsible for setting MP's salaries, say the new digitised system will ultimately cut costs for taxpayers as MPs and their staff will spend less time filing paper receipts.

"MPs and staff no longer need to send Ipsa paper receipts and invoices through the post, but can scan and photograph them and upload them to Ipsa digitally," they said.

"The new system can also reimburse MPs’ staff directly rather than via the MP. On the basis of the experience so far, Ipsa estimate that MPs will need to spend around 30 per cent less time overall on the new system than they did on the old one."

The group admitted the system would need further improvements in "due course" after feedback from parliamentarians.

But the figures were jumped on by one senior backbencher, who told PoliticsHome: "If an MP or their staff make a mistake Ipsa come down on them like a tonne of bricks, yet the bill for the IT system has doubled and still counting."

In 2017, Ipsa were forced to apologise for another IT blunder after they accidently published a list of MPs' staff names along with their salaries on a publicly accessible website.

The watchdog has been approached for comment.