Atos responds to news of Cabinet Office contract review
Cabinet Office has confirmed that it will scrutinise all current Atos contracts with central government with an annual spend of over £10m
Atos has responded with some disappointment to the news that the Cabinet Office is to carry out a review of its government contracts.
Reports over the weekend had suggested that in the wake of a recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report into a General Practice Extraction Service (GPES) system, the Cabinet Office would carry out a review.
The report, published on December 31 last year, had said that in its approach to the project - which was an IT system designed to allow NHS organisations to extract data from all GP practice computer systems in England - Atos did not show an appropriate duty of care to the taxpayer.
It said, "We are not satisfied Atos provided proper professional support to an inexpert client and are very concerned that it appears to have acted solely with its own short term best interests in mind. "
It recommended that the Cabinet Office should "undertake a full review of Atos's relationships as a supplier to the Crown. We expect the Cabinet Office to note carefully this example of sharp practice when determining what obligations a duty of care on contractors should entail and what sanctions would apply when performance falls short."
The Cabinet Office has duly said it will follow the PAC line. A Cabinet Office spokesperson confirmed today, "In line with the Committee's recommendation Cabinet Office is undertaking a review of all current Atos contracts with Central Government with an annual spend over £10m."
Publicly, Atos has said it welcomed the review. An Atos spokesperson said, "We welcome this review. We look forward to working with the Cabinet Office with whom we have a transparent and open relationship and we look forward to maintaining our green rating for delivery across Whitehall."
However, the supplier has made a number of points in its defence of the GPES contract. The PAC had said that in relation to end-to-end testing, "To work in a real life situation, Atos' software needed to communicate accurately with the four systems that extract data from GP clinical systems and other systems relying on its data, such as that used to calculate payments due to GPs. The test that NHS IC and Atos had agreed to carry out was less complex."
It added, "Atos told us that the software it had provided was one of eight components parts in the system. An end-to-end test of the system had been planned but could not be undertaken because the other components were not ready, so the software was tested at the component level. Atos considered that its software had worked because it had passed the component test proving its functionality."
Atos responded to the PAC criticism, pointing out that:
- It is only responsible for a single part of the GP Extraction Service (GPES) system: General Practice Extraction Tool - Query (GPET-Q)
- GPES is made up of a series of connected systems, each run by a different contractor with the HSCIC leading the overall programme. There are seven different suppliers (including HSCIC) working on the GPES system.
- GPET-Q, which Atos is responsible for, has been running since March 2014 and delivers around 40 extractions per year.
- Atos was not able to test the GPET-Q system in a live environment as it had recommended because it did not have access to all the other organisations component parts. "We undertook the most robust testing we could without having this access and found the tool to be working," the company said.
- Once it was able to test with all suppliers in the full live environment there were faults with the system that needed to be fixed. Atos said it covered all costs of Atos' issues for the GPET-Q system.
- Atos said it was not paid any additional costs for fixing defects where needed and this was explained to the National Audit Office (NAO)
Atos is also understood to be unhappy that it has been made out to be the villain for the entire GPES project, the costs of which increased from £14m to £40m during the planning and procurement stage. Atos said it wanted to make it clear "that those are not Atos costs which are £11m up to 2018."
Late last year, Atos was awarded a five-year £45m contract for the supply of SIAM services to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). Earlier in 2015, TfL also appointed Atos as its primary service desk contractor in a £6m deal.