Headlines: July 16th, 2004

The casualties of change management failure in public services are typically families seeking support from an absent parent and claimants of tax credits. In the past year these failures have brought cases of distress and financial hardship to the desk of the Parliamentary Ombudsman. In her Annual Report for 2003-4, Ann Abraham highlights the cost of failure in human terms. She sets out the weaknesses in change management processes and calls for a significant changes of mindset in government bodies.Her major criticisms are aimed at large scale changes in government services, underpinned by significant IT projects. The weaknesses she identifies are too little preparation time, not enough planning and no piloting. She is particularly concerned that change management plans to not include robust arrangements to ensure that redress is available when things go wrong.

The report quotes examples of badly managed programmes of large-scale changes to service delivery. At the beginning of March 2003, the Child Support Agency rolled out a new computer system to support a major and long promised reform of the child support scheme. Defects in the system have caused considerable problems for the Agency and its customers. The agency also introduced new rulesfor assessment without adequate change management processes.

The introduction of the new tax credits system by the Inland Revenue was also marred by significant problems. The complaints to the Ombudsman demonstrated the huge impact on families of delays in commencing the payments. The referred cases were only a small proportion of the overall number of people affected, but they were representative of many thousands more.