UK Government calls on outsourcers to agree to 'living wills'

28 November 2018

In a bid to safeguard public services and funds from a future collapse of an outsourcing provider, the British Government has called on a number of professional services companies to draft IT cheat-sheets to be used in the event of their administrations. Volunteers Capita, Serco and Sopra Steria are understood to have created so-called ‘living wills’ already, with others to follow suit.

When Carillion entered into its shock liquidation at the start of 2018, it was one of the largest suppliers of outsourced services used by the UK Government. It had been involved in major projects such as the HS2 high-speed rail line, as well as managing schools and prisons, and was the second biggest supplier of maintenance services to Network Rail. Such was the extent of its influence at the Ministry of Defence – for which it maintained 50,000 homes – news of its collapse even saw Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson trigger a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergency committee to discuss the situation.

In the fallout, the Government and the professional services world have both been pilloried by Parliament and the public for their seemingly oblivious approach to the ailing company’s future. Wolverhampton headquartered Carillion issued three profit warnings over 2017, having run up unsustainable debts totalling around £1.5 billion, yet continued to receive new contracts from the Government to provide keystone services. Meanwhile, Big Four firm KPMG faced a probe from the Financial Reporting Council regarding its auditing work, with suggestions that failures to adhere to ethical and technical industry criteria had caused a lack of transparency regarding Carillion’s health.

UK Government calls on outsourcers to agree ‘living wills’

Now, as the Cabinet Office looks to insulate public services from a possible recurrence, it has looked to a trio of IT outsourcers to provide the Government with ‘living wills’, in case they collapse. The Government struggled to gather the information necessary to step in and take over for services provided by Carillion after its collapse, and Capita, Serco and Sopra Steria’s 'living will' cheat-sheets will help aid the process "in the unlikely event of business failure where another may need to step in," the Cabinet Office said.

According to reports from news site The Register, Capita, Serco and Sopra Steria all "volunteered" to do this, and will complete these so-called living wills "within weeks", while other contractors are slated to follow. The idea is also expected to help the Government address drastic situations such as Capita's allegedly dangerous handling of its Primary Care Services contract. Earlier in the autumn, it was reported that the firm had put patients at risk, when it failed to deliver almost 50,000 letters relating to cancer screening information across England, including between 150 and 200 abnormal results. With the NHS taking this back in-house, executives have since admitted that there wasn't enough due diligence at the outset of Capita’s appointment, while they are now "working blind" because of a lack of information.

David Liddington, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said that Carillion was a "complex business" and that the government "did not have the benefit of key organisational information that could have smoothed the management of the liquidation" when it collapsed. He added, “By ensuring contingency plans can be quickly put in place in the very rare event of supplier failure, we will be better prepared to maintain continuity of critical public services."


How data insights helped Network Rail improve the South-East route

11 April 2019

Amey Consulting has leveraged data insights to assist Network Rail with the improvement of its South-Eastern route. Using the Quartz tool, which monitors train movement, Network Rail will now be able to commit to data-enabled interventions to quickly improve underperforming train stations.

With rail services in the UK coming under strain from the demands of modern commuter life, while the infrastructure and service delivery of the nation’s railways has come in for sustained criticism in recent years, a period of regeneration is on the cards at last. Network Rail is the owner and infrastructure manager of most of the railway network in Great Britain, and has subsequently tapped the consulting industry on a regular basis to help find areas of improvement.

The group recently drafted in consultancy BearingPoint to conduct a thorough organisational evaluation and advise Network Rail (High Speed) on attaining a ‘fit for purpose’ organisational standard – for which the consultancy was nominated at the 2019 MCA Awards. Meanwhile, ArupArcadis and Aecom have been contracted to help Colas Rail and Babcock Rail implement a decade-long framework for Network Rail, aimed at supporting the delivery of the next generation of rail systems, with the contracts said to be worth as much as £5 billion

How data insights helped Network Rail improve the South-East route

As Network Rail further aims to improve its performance and customer service offering, another area it has sought help from the consulting sector for is its South-East route. The network of railways connects London with the southern parts of the country, as well as with Europe, making it the busiest in the country, with more than 500 million passenger journeys per year. This crucial expanse of rail was plagued with small minute delays, which were impacting millions of passengers every day, while reducing the efficiency and capacity of the overall network – something Amey Consulting was selected to help solve.

Amey Consulting soon determined that with the sub-threshold delays to services only lasting for 1 or 2 minutes, most were not the subject of detailed root cause analysis, and this made their corrections almost impossible – with dire consequences. Without addressing these delays, passenger satisfaction would fall, while the capacity and efficiency of the network would be reduced, stinging the income of Network Rail even before a host of delay-related fines would hit the company.

In order to help the client gain a better understanding of where, how, when and what these small delays occur, Amey Consulting looked to demonstrate the value of data-led consulting, with a significant reduction in delays within the first month of rolling out changes to key stations. The consultants embedded themselves in Network Rail’s team, helping them learn the key skills needed to support and apply data-driven solutions.

Agile transport

This involved the deployment of the Quartz tool. The system utilises to-the-second train movement data to present the performance of individual stations across the South-East route. It allows users to effortlessly understand station performance with a high level of detail, and use this information to identify losses caused by small-minute delays. The granular data allows for targeted actions to drive efficiency savings and performance improvements. More importantly, it allows users to understand the impact of small process changes on performance. 

Steve Dyke, an Executive Partner at Amey Consulting, said of the project, “We looked to identify the physical root cause on the infrastructure, building a case for change then managing that project implementation and tracking the benefit/value.  In doing so we are working to define a data performance improvement service to the operational and infrastructure owners.”

Just as important for the project as the technology, however, was teaching the Network Rail team how to leverage it after the consultants were gone. The Amey Consulting team worked to develop an agile working culture within Network Rail’s South-East division, helping staff to be confident in using data to improve the journeys of millions of people per year by attacking the problem from the ground up.

Dyke concluded, “This is less about the tools and about the approach to managing performance.  It meant using by-the-second analysis, data science, and then agile development to visualise and identify areas where improvements can be made.  We then worked with NR to change the way they approached the management of the infrastructure changes.  So rather than pass the information down the value chain, any of which could have been missed, we managed the change end-to-end.”

The project was so successful that Amey Consulting was also among those honoured at the recent MCA Awards. The firm scooped the Performance Improvement in the Public Sector prize for its work with Network Rail, at the 2019 ceremony in London.