The £500m savings claim made by the Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG) on Friday 5 July 2013 has been brought into question by the chairman of the science and technology commons select committee (STC), Labour MP Andrew Miller.
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Last week the ERG – formed by the coalition to cut the UK deficit and run by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander – claimed controlling spending on IT and digitising a number of government services had led to the saving.
However, in an interview with Computer Weekly, MP Andrew Miller claimed the lack of detail on how the figure was reached brought its validity into question.
“I think the £500m figure was entirely plucked out of the air,” Miller said. “I haven’t seen anything that has convinced me this is a reliable figure. Maybe it is and maybe it has been hidden from parliament how they got to it. Perhaps they felt they had to put an order of magnitude on it.”
The statement comes hours after Miller and his colleagues on the STC sent Francis Maude an open letter, questioning the overall strategy of "digital by default". The committee said it had concerns over whether the savings from moving government services online had been proven, as well as worries about security and procedures for government agencies wanting to access personal data on citizens.
“Increasingly in the digital world, the government is using price as the justification,” said Miller. “But we haven’t been told the mechanism. How do we know what model to follow? We don’t know what provides the best value for money if we don’t know the process.
“Also, the checks and balances aren’t in place just yet. That work has never been finessed despite having been talked about for years. I discussed it ages ago under Tony Blair. Now it is more and more possible to create common front ends to enable you to avoid duplicating citizen’s data but these simple measures are needed.”
However, Miller said he did believe Francis Maude was open to discussion and wanted to have “rational, non-partisan dialogue” with the Tory minister, and possibly government CIOs, on how best to move forward.
“It is essential this exchange is held in the public domain,” concluded Miller. “It is about data accuracy and public confidence. The relationship will be about building the right level of trust between the government and the citizen.”
The STC has asked Maude to come back to the committee with his thoughts before Parliament resumes for the autumn session in October 2013.