MPs slam ‘outdated and difficult to use’ IT systems at Defra

10th May 2023


The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) needs a complete overhaul of its IT systems, which are “outdated and difficult to use”, a cross-party group of MPs has warned today.

In a damning report, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also describes Defra’s legacy IT systems as “inefficient, expensive, and at constant risk of failure or cyber-attack”.

Furthermore, the department still handles around 14 million transactions per year that involve paper forms, which the MPs say is “inefficient and expensive”.

Defra estimates that it needs to spend £726m on modernising legacy services between 2021 and 2025, and that fully transforming its digital systems could save £20m-£25m every year. It is currently undertaking a “fundamental review” and potential restructure of its organisation

However, the PAC warns that a lack of overall vision means any changes made now to its digital systems may not be appropriate in the longer-term and could lead to wasted time and money.

Deputy chair, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, said: “Defra’s IT systems are so outmoded and disconnected – where they exist at all, instead of paper forms – that, in some cases, the professionals who keep our food, water and air safe have been forced to buy obsolete equipment just to fill in the forms to fulfil their regulatory responsibilities.

“We are facing down rapidly spreading animal diseases, maybe the next pandemic, with systems that may rely on moving paper forms around. This cannot continue.”

The report claims that 80% of Defra’s IT applications remain in extended support, possibly incurring additional charges for updates, or are completely unsupported by their supplier, and says that it hasn’t given enough attention to the impact of its poor digital services on its users.

It doesn’t measure the cost to users of its unmodernised digital services, so it is not possible to assess the total burden they place on other organisations and the wider economy.

For example, previously, vets had to buy old laptops to be able to run the programmes they needed to use.

The report also states that Defra is struggling to recruit the digital, data and technology staff it needs, and remains over-reliant on contractors which can cost up to twice as much.

The PAC is now calling on the department to explain what new approaches it will adopt to recruit staff and reduce its reliance on contractors and temporary staff to provide digital skills.

Sir Geoffrey continued: “We on the PAC will also not accept a situation where Defra spends hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money on a disjointed upgrade programme only to find that it no longer fits the structure of new systems of air quality monitoring, food and clean water supply in this country.

“It’s time for a complete overhaul at Defra, with a concurrent, pro-active digital strategy that matches every step.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

Subscribe

Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.


Transform articles

UK off track for net zero by 2030, CCC warns

Only a third of the emission reductions required for the UK to achieve net zero by 2030 are covered by credible plans, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has warned today.

18th July 2024

Read more

Three in five British adults want more public involvement in the planning system, which could be at odds with Labour’s plans to boost economic growth, IEMA research has found.

3rd July 2024

Read more

Ahead of the UK general election next month, IEMA has analysed the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Green Party manifestos in relation to the sustainability agenda.

19th June 2024

Read more

Disinformation about the impossibility of averting the climate crisis is part of an alarming turn in denialist tactics, writes David Burrows

6th June 2024

Read more

Rivers and waterways across England and Wales are increasingly polluted by sewage spills. What is causing the crisis and what is being done to tackle it? Huw Morris reports

31st May 2024

Read more

IEMA submits response to the Future Homes Standard consultation

31st May 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close