The installation of a new computer accounting system at a research council was this week branded an "unadulterated mess" and "a grade-one disaster" by a House of Commons select committee.
The public accounts committee heard how major system problems at the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, which runs the Rutherford Appleton and the Daresbury laboratories, were not reported to the Department of Trade and Industry, to which it answers, for more than six months (THES, March 3).
Even then the DTI only learned of the problems when the National Audit Office issued a warning in December 1997. The system cost almost double the original estimate and overpaid bills of almost Pounds 0,000, some of which is unlikely to be recovered.
MP Richard Page said he regretted that Paul Williams, chief executive of CCLRC when the system was fitted in 1997, was not present to answer questions. Instead it was left to his successor Albert Westwood.
Sir Michael Scholar, permanent secretary at the DTI, told MPs: "The regime we follow is not to have detailed intervention." This could lead to a "blurring" of responsibility. Even so, he agreed the DTI should have been told earlier of problems on this scale.
Mr Page told Sir Michael: "We see dozens of cases where every single introduction of new computer systems by the civil service is an unmitigated disaster. Should knowing one of your small charges was introducing a computer system have rung alarm bells in DTI?" Legal action against Coopers and Lybrand, the company that supplied the system, has not been ruled out.