Dismantle Labour's IT to save £8bn, says Tory advisor report

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Dismantle Labour's IT to save £8bn, says Tory advisor report

Mark Ballard

A think-tank close to the government has proposed dismantling the IT systems and business ecosystem established by Labour's drive to computerise government.

Led by Liam Maxwell, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead councillor who helped draft the Conservative Technology Policy and other formative Tory IT policy documents, the Network for the Post-Bureaucratic Age said its proposals could cut 40 per cent from the government IT budget of approximately £21bn.

The report, "Better for Less - how to make government IT deliver savings", accuses the Labour government of establishing a culture of empire-building that had careered out of control. "Profligate, rudderless, underperforming and ultimately unfair," is how the report summarises the government's IT programme.

The previous administration created a dysfunctional marketplace dominated by nine overly-influential multinational systems integrators, who had over 80 per cent of government IT tied up in very large, high-value, long-term contracts. Checks and controls had been removed from these contracts and democratic transparency refused for reasons of commercial confidentiality, according to the document.

The suppliers and the government had produced sub-optimal designs using ineffective procurement that unfairly excluded small firms. Only 30 per cent of their projects worked. They had made government less productive, had become a barrier to change and cost the equivalent of one to two per cent of GDP.

"Government should not be propping up the stock prices of multinationals who got lucky and cut super-profitable deals with a government that demonstrated very little procurement capability," said Liam Maxwell in the report.

The document proposes dismantling the white-elephant IT systems built under Labour.

Its publisher, the Network for the Post-Bureaucratic Age, was launched in February with a speech from now-prime minister David Cameron. His speech trailed ideas published a month later in the Conservative Technology Manifesto written by Maxwell and other key Tory IT advisors.

The Network's report echoes and develops ideas first presented in the Labour government's Open Source Action Plan in January 2009 - ideas neglected after the expenses leaks to the Daily Telegraph destabilised the government and led to the resignation of Tom Watson MP, their champion.

Maxwell's report said that Tom Watson's open source proposals were "quashed by a lazy establishment". The Labour government put a new date on Watson's proposals and presented them as an update before the election in January.

"Neither Tony Blair's ambitious 'e-government programme', nor his desire for clear accountability were ever achieved," said Maxwell's report. It is 13 years since the paper-based days of 1997 when newly elected prime minister Tony Blair promised 25% of government services would be available online in five years. That programme was followed by deputy prime minister John Prescott's £675m investment to bring e-government to local councils.

Maxwell's report said the Labour's IT legacy comprised ill-thought through systems that were inflexible and consequently expensive.

"They now form a major barrier to any effective change of process in government," it said.

He proposes instead deep cultural change, spearheaded by a CIO Council newly empowered to impose a strong guiding philosophy that open standards were not merely a matter of systems architecture, but actually determined the shape of the IT market, health and efficiency of the systems they produced.

"The current approach is disparate and thinks of open standards and architecture as things - products, technical platforms - rather than as a technology-enabled commercial model," the report says.

As both Watson and Maxwell proposed in 2009, open standards would break the stranglehold big integrators had on public sector IT, reduce costs and increase efficiency, innovation and enterprise.

But Maxwell's report today also revived a radical idea to liberate data from government hands, giving individuals ownership rights over their personal data and achieving a more radical citizen-centric IT policy than was possible to conceive in 2005, when the last government introduced its Transformational Government programme.

"Only the individual knows their real preferences and future intentions. Only the individual therefore can drive the effective 'personalisation' of public services which the centralised databases of Transformational Government promised but failed to deliver," said Maxwell.

The nine systems integrators named in the report were, in order of their earnings from UK tax payers: HP/EDS; BT; Fujitsu Services; Capgemini; IBM; Capita; Dell; Serco and CSC.


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