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Dobson questions costs of Department of Agriculture’s £78m computer project

Ulster Unionist MLA and party Agriculture spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson has raised concerns about the Department of Agriculture’s plans for replacing its livestock database known as APHIS. 

Following writing to the Minister to find out the estimated costs of updating the system the Upper Bann MLA received the answer from the Department that it could cost as much as £78 million (including VAT). 

Mrs Dobson said:

“This estimate from the Department equates to roughly £3,200 for every farm in Northern Ireland. 

“Using up-to-date computer technology is essential in any Government Department. However, the costs which the Department of Agriculture are estimating for the replacement of APHIS will be concerning not only to our farmers, but to the agri-food industry as a whole. 

“In her answer to me the Minister has confirmed that her estimate includes the cost of developing, testing, supporting, migrating the existing data and managing the transition as well as on-going maintenance for up to 15 years. They plan to call the new system the Northern Ireland Food Animal Information System and have already put staff in place within the Department to handle the project. 

“I am aware that the Department had previously discussed a budget of £33m and I will now be seeking assurances from the Minister that the Department will not be looking to farmers and the industry to make up this funding gap. 

“The out-going APHIS system has served our farmers well, not least when it comes to our world-leading traceability. It is hugely important that we have a database which is reliable, provides value for money, but at the same time which farmers can operate with full confidence. 

“While the Department freely admit that this is one of the ‘biggest projects currently being undertaken’ and is a ‘high risk task,’ they also confirm that for both contractual and technical reasons they need to replace APHIS. 

“Given the implications for the Department’s budget I have written to the Minister to question her estimated costs. I have also urged that any new system be as easy to use as possible for farmers and also that the transition from the existing to the new database is as smooth as possible." 

AQW 37210/11-15


Mrs Jo-Anne Dobson
Ulster Unionist Party
Upper Bann


Tabled Date: 08/10/2014
Answered On Date: 21/10/2014
Priority Written: No


Question:

To ask the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for an estimate of the costs associated with the replacement of the Animal and Public Health Information System.

Answer: 

The Animal and Public Health Information System (APHIS) is nearing the end of its life and plans are well advanced for its replacement. 

The Notice of Intended Procurement published in the Official Journal of the European Union in July 2014 advised prospective suppliers that the estimated value of the contract ranged between £56,000,000 and £65,000,000 GBP (excluding VAT) for a period of up to 15 years.  

The contract covers the development of the new system - including testing, support, migration of data from the existing systems, and managing the transition to the new system, as well as on-going maintenance and upgrades for up to 15 years. 

The figures given in the Official Journal are taken from the Outline Business Case, which under HM Treasury guidelines must make allowance for “Optimism Bias”, to accommodate and make allowance for the range of risks to which complex projects are exposed. This was calculated at 62% on top of the initial estimates of capital cost. 

My officials have separately set out the NIFAIS Programme’s resource and capital budget allocation in the briefing provided to the ARD Committee, in advance of the closed session on 7th October. 

As my officials explained on that occasion, a number of interested companies are now being short-listed, prior to being invited to participate in Competitive Dialogue this November. You will therefore also be aware that commercial confidentiality is key to ensure not only the successful outcome of a good solution providing value for money, but also the maintenance of competitiveness, fairness and trust, as the procurement goes forward to award of contract, sometime late in 2015.  

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