DWP digital chief named CIO of the year – as department reported to be reviewing projects

Mayank Prakash scoops UK IT Industry Award as department denies rumours of a project overspend

By Rebecca Hill

21 Nov 2016

The director general of digital technology at the Department for Work and Pensions has been named CIO of the year in the UK IT Industry Awards – although the department has had to deny a project overspend amid reports it is reviewing key technology schemes.

Mayank Prakash – who only recently took over as the sole head of the department’s digital reforms after former business transformation boss Kevin Cunnington left to lead the Government Digital Service – was given the prize at a ceremony last week.

He tweeted that the award was for his whole team, adding that he was “so proud of what colleagues have achieved”.

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However, the award comes as the DWP faces continued rumours about budgeting problems, including that a number of its 500-plus digital, IT and technology projects are under review and that contractors are being laid off. 

CSW's sister title PublicTechnology understands that the department has put a large number of its digital projects under review, with some thought to already be on hold or cancelled – among those rumoured to have been abandoned is the Carer’s Allowance digital service.

Discussions have focused on a potential overspend by the department on digital projects, which commentators claimed had led to the review – something the DWP has strongly denied.

A spokesman for the department told PublicTechnology: “It is untrue that there is a project overspend.”

However, the spokesman did not specifically deny that reviews were underway – although they declined to comment on specific projects, instead saying: “We routinely review our work to ensure that we focus our resources on the most viable options and deliver the best value for the taxpayer.”

The spokesman added that the department was “on track to deliver record digital transformation on a scale larger than most FTSE 100 companies” this year.

This chimes with comments made to ComputerWeekly about internal meetings in DWP last month – according to the trade title, DWP sources said that Prakash told staff projects were going well and that all was on track.

In addition, it is understood that many IT contractors, some of whom are said to have been put on short-term contracts of as little as two weeks, are being laid off.

The department’s use of non-payroll staff has more than tripled in the past two years, according to transparency data available on GOV.UK. In September 2014, there were 182 non-payroll staff across the whole department. There is no breakdown for IT staff but they will make up a large proportion of this number.

By September 2015, this figure had risen to 382, and by September 2016 – the most recent month that figures are available for – it reached 651, although this includes a fall from 667 in the previous month.

The DWP has said that it uses contractors to provide flexibility for projects are being revised and improved, and that the notice period times are set by the contractor’s employer.

It is not thought that permanent staff at the department are in danger of losing their jobs, but some commentators have said that the departure of contractors will be to the detriment of the department as they may be unlikely to return to DWP work if projects restarted.

It is also not clear what effect this week's Autumn Statement might have on department's budgets and future spending, and so which projects DWP will be able to offer continued backing to.

There is also the government's long-awaited digital transformation strategy to contend with.

The strategy, which is being led on by Cunnington, is due for publication before Christmas. The document is understood to be circulating among departments now, as one of the main themes will be for a more collaborative approach to digital projects between departments and GDS in the centre.

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