Cabinet Office probe clears Atos of “sharp practice” in current big contracts

Report commissioned by the Public Accounts Committee finds no repeat of outsourcing firm’s failings with GP data service

By Jim Dunton

16 Sep 2016

A Cabinet Office review of large-value central government contracts held by Atos has found no evidence of the IT outsourcing firm repeating failings discovered in a multi-million-pound NHS data monitoring contract.

The probe was launched after MPs on the Public Accounts Committee looked into Atos’s handling of the General Practice Extraction Service, accusing the company of having "acted solely with its own short term best interests in mind" and taken advantage of a “weak client”.

The Cabinet Office was tasked with reviewing all government contracts with the firm worth £10m or more a year, with particular instructions to “note carefully the example of sharp practice” found in the GPES, which went live five years later than planned, saw its budget increase from £14m to £40m, and never worked as had been originally intended.

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According to the just-published findings of the review, investigators examined 12 major Atos contracts fitting the probe’s terms of reference – spread across eight departments, and found all were “performing within the normal operational parameters of large technology outsource contracts”. 

The report said that 10 of the 12 contracts met more than 90% of their key performance indicators over the 12 months to June, and that the two contracts which fell below 90% had been placed under review.

It continued: “We did not see any examples of behaviour that might be described as sharp commercial practice in the course of this review and the departmental staff interviewed did not have any issues in this regard. 

“There were differing levels of financial transparency across the contracts but upon further investigation we did not see any examples of Atos making profits out of line with the marketplace on any of the contracts reviewed. 

“There were examples to the contrary in some of the Atos contracts where they were working at risk and beyond their contractual obligations to act in the client's interests.”
The report, submitted to PAC chair Meg Hillier and prefaced by a covering letter from government chief commercial officer Gareth Rhys Williams, said the combined value of the 12 contracts was more than £500m a year.

It added that following another PAC recommendation, the Cabinet Office was developing a supplier code of conduct to specify the behaviours expected of suppliers providing services to the government and promised the document would be published later this year.

An Atos spokesman said the firm was “proud to be a trusted supplier” and had welcomed the review as an opportunity to demonstrate the quality of its services.

“We are pleased that the Cabinet Office has concluded that we deliver the appropriate level of professional support to our government clients,” he said.

The 12 contracts looked at by the Cabinet Office included three at the Department for Work and Pensions, two with the Ministry of Justice, two with the Home Office, and one contract each with HM Treasury, the Department of  Health, the Ministry of Defence, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency.
The report did not specify which of those had failed to meet 90% of their key performance indicators.

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