The Department of Work and Pensions has been criticised by the PCS union following reports that parts of the IT infrastructure to support its new Universal Credit benefits scheme will be developed offshore.
On Friday last week, The Guardian cited internal documents from the DWP explaining that IBM and Accenture, two of the suppliers that won Universal Credit IT contracts last year, will use offshore resources to build the systems in question.
The PCS union said the decision to allow this was contrary to reassurances from employment minister Chris Grayling, who prevented HP from moving jobs under a DWP contract offshore last year. "It is important that we do not see government-controlled employment move offshore," Grayling said at the time.
DWP has responded by saying that no existing jobs are to be moved offshore, and that is only new work that will be conducted in IBM and Accenture’s offshore facilities. It confirmed that suppliers can only use offshore resources with its permission.
It added that the Universal Credit scheme will involve minimal new development, as 60% of the IT systems required to support the scheme are already in place.
IBM has declined to comment. Accenture did not deny that it would be using offshore resources to support the Universal Credit contract.
In the Guardian’s report, Labour MP John McDonnell said that "this flies in the face of firm government undertakings that databases holding the personal information of our citizens would not be put at risk by offshoring."
However, the DWP insists that "no personal data is held or can be accessed outside the UK", and says there are no plans to offshore any work involving personal data.
According to TechMarketView analyst Georgina O’Toole, it should come as no surprise that the global IT suppliers will use offshore resources to support ‘greenfield’ government IT projects such as Universal Credit.
"Government departments are under enormous pressure to cut costs. Offshoring in this sort of environment is inevitable," she told Information Age. "It’s only when we get to the offshoring of existing jobs or where data security issues abound that offshoring is taken off the table. And even then, there are often ways round such issues."
Speaking to Information Age last year, after HP’s plan to offshore work was announced, O’Toole said: "A lot of government offshoring already takes place that the public doesn’t know about – especially around application development and back-office admin – because it’s being done by local suppliers with offshore resources."