These are my questions and the Cabinet Office's replies on Government plans to freeze projects over £1m and review major IT-related projects and programmes.
Me: I understand that an initial review of projects between £1m-£50m will be undertaken by departments, by the end of July. Given that some departments and agencies have been defensive and self-justifying in the past, can the Cabinet Office be certain that departments will be objective when reviewing their projects?
[For instance the Department of Health has said that the NPfIT is within budget, although the original contracts were announced as being worth £6.2bn and have since increased to a cost of about £7.3bn. The Department would say that the budgets have not increased; the contracts are delivering much more than originally intended. Some may see the increase, though, as scope creep.]
"There are three phases to the package of actions announced by the Chancellor which include: a moratorium on 'new' ICT spend over £1m including contracts, contract amendments and extensions that are over £1m; a review of ICT projects worth over £1m and a contracts renegotiation phase.
"In terms of the review of projects between £1-£50m, which we believe departments are best placed to undertake, we will expect them to either close, reshape or continue the projects. We expect departments to send the Government CIO the results and a rigorous process to review this information will be undertaken.
"Transparency will be a core part of our approach and, as you can see from our recently published Cabinet Office Structural Reform Plan, following on from the results of the ICT project reviews we intend to start work on the publication of performance details on all ICT projects above £1m in September.
"The public can then scrutinise the information to see if departments have been objective in reviewing their ICT projects."
Me: If it is an intention of the contract renegotiations to avoid harming the ICT industry, can the Cabinet Office be certain of achieving large savings by this process, which would make the trouble of renegotiating worthwhile?
"The intention is to work with the ICT industry through a contract renegotiation process to identify areas where efficiencies can be realised.
"For instance, it is already accepted that just saving £100 per annum of all PC running costs could save the Public Sector £400m per year. This will not be a one-sided process, we expect the ICT industry to be able to identify many ways in which we can collectively reduce costs by simplifying the way we do business with each other, simplifying requirements, consolidating projects and accepting common ways of doing business across Government."
Me: Is it the intention to lift the moratorium as soon as projects have been reviewed and renegotiated - and ideally by the end of this financial year?
"Following the review of ICT projects and contract renegotiation activity, our plan is to review the need for the moratorium by the end of this financial year."
Me: Are some departments/agencies, such as the security services, protected in that they can keep any savings from their reviews and renegotiations?
"The following are excluded: specialist military projects provided by specialist defence contractors, the Olympics, ICT spend as a result of Budget tax measures and contracts altered as a result of the Government's renegotiation of contracts with major suppliers simply by virtue of being renegotiated..."
Me: Are some projects exempted from the moratorium/review/contract renegotiation if, for example, a delay would cost taxpayers?
"Yes. We have introduced an exceptions process. Each application will be individually scrutinised to determine if it qualifies as a moratorium exception.
"Where it can be proved that a delay would stop or directly impact delivery of a current citizen or business facing service that is consistent with the Government's priorities then an authorised exception will be considered.
"All requests for authorised exceptions will also be robustly reviewed by the Government CIO and the Cabinet Office Minister."
Me: Is the Cabinet Office/OGC advising departments and CIOs that reports such as Gateway reviews, business cases and risk registers may be published, subject to internal editing?
"Departments, agencies and NDPBs have been advised that transparency of data and information will be a core part of our approach, and this includes reports such as Gateway Review reports, business cases and risk registers.
"Clearly there may be specific reasons where redaction may be required for legal or commercial reasons."
Government CIOs contribute to the budget - IT Projects Blog
IT openness is coming - Cabinet Office