Backbench MPs to fight PPP funding for public IT

The Government is facing a possible revolt by backbenchers and trade unions over the use of Public-Private Partnership (PPP)...

The Government is facing a possible revolt by backbenchers and trade unions over the use of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) financing of public sector IT projects.

Labour MP David Taylor plans to set up a backbench parliamentary group to campaign against the Government's plans to develop risk-sharing relationships between the public and private sectors on major IT projects.

PPP and the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) could hinder the public sector's ability to respond to technology changes, Taylor warned.

"PFI contracts can tie public sector bodies into a pattern of service provision that is not appropriate," he said. As the years roll by, PFI can become increasingly less flexible and could inhibit the IT investment the public sector needs, he added.

Taylor, who was a former deputy head of computing at Leicestershire County Council, hopes to work with the main trade unions on the lobbying campaign.

He said IT problems at the Passport Agency were evidence of the strategy's shortcomings. "The Passport Agency fiasco is a good example of the bear-traps and rigidities that can exist in PFI," he said.

Last year, the Commons Public Accounts Committee criticised the agency and its IT partner Siemens Business Systems over passport delays in the summer of 1999.

Problems with implementing an IT system resulted in a backlog of 565,000 passports, delays of up to 50 days and queues outside Passport Agency offices.

The committee highlighted the Passport Agency's failure to transfer risk to Siemens Business Systems.

The Government has defended its reliance on PPP schemes. An Office of Government Commerce spokesperson said, "PFI projects will include robust change mechanisms and open book accounting which lets public sector bodies keep up to date with technological change."

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