The ongoing row between NHS software firm iSoft and a key partner took a new twist yesterday.
Isoft, whose roots lie in the West Midlands, has started legal proceedings over the refusal of US IT giant Computer Sciences Corporation to endorse a £132.3 million takeover by Australian software firm IBA Health.
CSC, which has a major operation in Solihull, subcontracts work on the controversial and much delayed £6.2 billion contract to provide a centralised NHS database for patient records - known as the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) - to iSoft.
Yesterday in a joint statement with IBA, iSoft claimed CSC had approached its banks for the possible purchase of its debt, adding it understood the US firm was considering a possible offer for the company with Californian-based private equity fund Gores. iSoft, which closed its office on Aston Science Park some time ago, added in the statement: "No firm offer from either CSC or Gores has been forthcoming to date and there can be no certainty that any offer will be forthcoming or as to the terms on which an offer might be made."
The firm added: "In the week beginning May 21, CSC approached iSoft's financing banks to explore whether it could purchase iSoft's debt. This approach was made without the knowledge of iSoft and CSC has not, in iSoft's view, provided a satisfactory explanation for this approach.
"Against this background, it is with regret that the board of iSoft feels it has no alternative but now to initiate proceedings against CSC to protect the company and its shareholders' position.
"The objective of these proceedings is to ensure that CSC does not unlawfully withhold consent to a transaction that in the view of the iSoft board, inter alia, places iSoft in a stronger position to discharge its obligations under NPfIT.
"Notwithstanding this development, iSoft intends to continue to work constructively with CSC to deliver the NPfIT contract, which remains an absolute priority for iSoft.
"We also intend separately to continue the dialogue with CSC on the ongoing management of the programme."
Meanwhile, officials in charge of government IT projects costing billions of pounds are failing to keep ministers informed of problems, MPs warned today.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) investigation found one in five officials in charge of IT projects had never met the responsible minister, and a further 28 per cent met their minister less than four times a year.
The committee, made up of MPs from all parties, warned that if computer schemes are to succeed, ministers must have "full and candid" briefings on the risks and costs of projects.
The Delivering Successful IT-enabled Business Change report also states the need for "significant changes" in management practices at Whitehall departments.
The report said: "Lack of relevant experience, combined with a regular turnover of post-holders, adds unnecessary risk to the management of IT-enabled change."
The PAC's Tory chairman Edward Leigh said: "It's certainly no good putting someone in charge of the programme who lacks the experience and skills to get the best out of external contractors and stays in post only as long as it takes to get another Civil Service position."
Mr Leigh said departments must learn from successful projects such as the Payment Modernisation Programme and Pension Credit scheme.
The Government is spending between £12 million and £14 million a year on IT, including major programmes such as the ID cards scheme and the NHS medical records project.