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Ministry of Justice tight-lipped on Atos Origin IT penalties

Information is not in the public interest, MoJ says

The Ministry of Justice has refused to publish information about any occasions when Atos Origin, its lead IT contractor, might have failed to meet service level agreements.

According to a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) response, the MoJ admitted that its contract with Atos contains a clause that allows the department to invoke service credits if certain levels are not met. However, it said that releasing information relating to Service Level Agreements was not in the public interest.

"The contract does not include penalty clauses as such, but does incorporate service levels against which service credits may be invoked for unsatisfactory performance.

"However, the department will not be providing data relating to penalties or service level agreement as it is exempt from disclosure."In this case, we believe that the information would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any person, including the department who holds it," the department wrote in its response.

It added: "In this case, we have concluded that the public interest favours withholding the information."

However, Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk, said that this response was a sign that there is too much secrecy around government contracts.

"The best way to secure the public interest is to obtain good value for money for taxpayers from tightly-managed IT contracts, which deliver what they were supposed to deliver, at a reasonable price.

"It is not at all obvious that taxpayers benefit from secrecy in the management of IT contracts. On the contrary, the people most likely to gain are those trying to cover up costly mistakes. These contracts are paid for with taxpayers' money and taxpayers have the right to know how their money is spent," he said.

Atos' £580 million contract with the MoJ began on 23 October 2006, and is due to expire on 22 October 2013. There is an option to extend the contract to p to 22 October 2016, and the value of the contract is subject to change as new projects are commissioned. Atos declined to comment on the issue.

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