Conservatives 'would level open source playing field' says Cameron

Tony Collins

Conservative leader David Cameron has outlined his party's IT strategy for government saying there would be a "level playing field for open source software in IT procurement" and no room for projects like the "hubristic NHS supercomputer".

He also proposes "spending transparency" in which "every public body must publish every item of Government expenditure over £25,000, increasing accountability to the taxpayer".

It is unclear, however, how this would be achieved in practice or how much detail would be required on spending over £25,000.

Cameron's speech "Innovation must be at the heart of public policy" was at the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

He said, "We will follow private sector best practice which is to introduce 'open standards' that enables IT contracts to be split up into modular components. So never again could there be projects like Labour's hubristic NHS supercomputer. And we will create a level playing field for open source software in IT procurement and open up the procurement system to small and innovative companies."

He added, "We're going to move from a top-down system to a bottom-up one, where money follows the needs and wishes of individuals and the users of services - not the priorities of the bureaucracy."

He said open source methods "can help overcome the massive problems in government IT programmes" adding, "The basic reason for these problems is Labour's addiction to the mainframe model - large, centralised systems for the management of information.

"From the NHS computer to the new Child Support Agency, they rely on 'closed' IT systems that reduce competitive pressures and lead to higher risks and higher costs. A Conservative government will take a different approach. We will follow private sector best practice which is to introduce 'open standards' that enables IT contracts to be split up into modular components."

He added that the use of open source software through IT procurement could result in "savings to the taxpayer of hundreds of millions of pounds per year". It's unclear, however, whether EC procurement rules would allow open source software to be specified in tenders.

Cameron said, "Linux, the open source pioneer, is now the fastest growing operating system in the world, and even IBM is basing their new hardware on it. Information liberation could be hugely beneficial in the new economy.

"After all, what are the great new giants of the internet - from Myspace to eBay - but information processing systems? These companies have grown because people rely on them to transmit information quickly, easily, cheaply and securely. Imagine if the information that government controlled was available to the public too?"

His proposals include standardising local government information, so it can be "collected and used by the public and third party groups" to "create innovative applications and public services" and crime mapping, so the "public can see a constantly updating picture of crime in their area, increasing the accountability of local police and politicians".

And instead of asking where the voluntary sector fits in, Cameron's party would ask where it doesn't fit in. The Conservatives would "concentrate on the results that public services deliver, not prescribe the processes they have to follow".

>> IT pro report on Cameron's speech

>> The speech in full

>> Tony Collins' IT Projects Blog

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