Scottish Land Registry abandons costly IT projects

Meadowbank House - Registers of Scotland HQ

Bosses at the Scottish quango responsible for registering property have abandoned two IT projects at a cost of £6.8 million because, in the words of a Scottish Government Gateway Review which reported in 2011,“the successful delivery of the project/ programme appears to be unachievable.“

At the same time a £5 million building and refurbishment plan in underway at their Edinburgh headquarters, Meadowbank House, and there are plans to lay off hundreds of workers.

A partnership was entered into with BT for provision of IT development on 1 December 2004, and the original budget of £66 million has now doubled to an estimated £132 million, of which £102 million was incurred by April 2011, included funding for the now abandoned contracts.

The E-Settle project was designed as an electronic registration system which would streamline the process and speed up the registration process, but  the RoS Management Board  admitted that, “tests showed it did not achieve the required level of delivery and accuracy.“

A new Content Management System to streamline the archiving and access of documents throughout the organisation was abandoned after the running costs for the project were forecast at £1 million over four years, with RoS forced to revert to the previous system.

“Nobody will be fired for that,” said Robert Caroll, Managing Director of Mov8 Real Estate.  The practising solicitor added, “The heads that will roll will be at the most senior level [not the managers].  In the private sector you would be held accountable and fired.”

Robert Carroll, MD of Mov8

The Agency is funded mainly by income from fees charged to house purchasers, via their solicitor and while this money has been spent on projects which were then abandoned, income has continued to reduce due to the lethargic housing market.

Mr Carroll observed, “It was like turkeys shouting about Christmas.  They’ve been producing figures to show how few residential sales there have been in Scotland for a number of years and yet seem to have ignored the figures themselves.  The downturn in the private sector was apparent two years before and solicitors were working two or three day weeks.

The official statistics that RoS produce show a pattern of dramatically reduced volume of house sales, and therefore income, since before 2008 when there were 40% fewer properties sold that the previous year.

In the light of what seemed like a buoyant housing market in 2007 RoS cut registration fees, with a £100,000 house costing £200 to register down from £286, a 30% decrease.  This latest financial crisis has forced the quango to raise fees again with a similar property now costing £240 in fees, a 20% increase.

Government IT projects have long been regarded by some as “money pits” with vastly increase budgets and abandonment of projects announced earlier this year at both the NHS and HM Customs and Revenue, where the new system was incapable of correctly calculating PAYE deductions.

Registers of Scotland admitted in their annual report that a “reassessment of skills and training required in the Information Directorate [who are responsible for IT] will be on-going during the coming year.” This has followed the resignation of Jim Bailey, IT Director and retiral of Andy Smith, Deputy Keeper for Service Delivery.

Sheenagh Adams, Keeper of the Registers of Scotland - responsible for the running of the scottish land registry quango

Eben Wilson, director of the campaign group Taxpayers Scotland has previously been reported commenting on the RoS IT problems, stating, “It seems the registers still does not have a good grip on its IT costs”, adding that RoS, “should not get involved in nice-to-have schemes that do not make financial sense.”

Dr Stephen Flowers of the Centre for Research in Innovation Management at University of Brighton has written extensively on the topic and identified key areas of organisational failure when implementing technology programmes including “lure of leading edge”, “design by committee” and “technical ‘fix’ for management problem” as areas that need to be addressed.

The financial problems of RoS are compounded by the redundancy of almost 10% of the 1,200 employees at a cost of £6.412 million and the continuation of a building and refurbishment programme at the Edinburgh headquarters at London Road at a cost of £5 million to house the significantly reduced numbers of staff.

Of those who accepted a redundancy 128 were given packages worth more than £100,000 each following on from the previous year where the three redundancies went to staff who accepted more than £200,000 each.

It is believed that remaining employees are anticipating a second round of redundancies which will further deplete the ranks of experienced staff with years of specialised technical knowledge.

A spokesman for RoS has previously commented that, “Registers of Scotland has decided to give up leasing premises at Erskine House, Queen Street, Edinburgh and move our customer services centre to our main office at Meadowbank House.  We are building an extension to provide better services for customers and to improve disabled access.”

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