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December 2, 2015

NAO slams Defra, GDS over failed rural payments reform

News: National Audit Office describes collaboration as "ineffective."

By James Nunns

An early review of the Common Agriculture Policy by the National Audit Office has criticised the collaboration between the agencies involved.

The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Rural Payments Agency and the Government Digital Service (GDS) have all come in for criticism for their poor attempt to collaborate in the £154m CAP programme.

The NAO described the collaboration as: "Ineffective," which, "undermined their ability to deliver a successful rural payments service."

The programme is a combined effort between these agencies to develop new systems and processes to support the implementation of CAP in England; established in 2012 to address previous delivery failings and complexity.

The NAO criticised the narrow vision and design which focused on procuring IT systems but failed to set out a wider organisation transformation that’s required.

Problems were exacerbated by a number of changes in leadership, with four senior responsible owners in the space of a year. The report found that the repeated changes caused uncertainty and confusion for staff.

After the Cabinet Office applied spending control in 2013, the GDS was found to not provide the support required to adapt to the changes during the spend control process.

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Despite a commitment by the GDS to reduce programme costs and to build digital capability, the NAO, said: "Its support was reported to be patchy and with limited continuity in personnel."

Failure in 2014 to set up an alternative means to access the government’s indentify assurance system, Verify, eventually meant the system was withdrawn. It was replaced by "paper-assisted digital" applications, which was a success.

However, focus on resolving immediate issues has distracted attention away from long-term goals.

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