BBC Radio 4’s Today programme broadcast an item this week [10 March 2008 – 6.50am] on our article about the Office of Government Commerce’s appeal to the High Court over a ruling of the Information Tribunal that early Gateway reviews on ID Cards should be published.
Co-presenter John Humphrys began the item by saying:
“The government does not want us to know how its big IT projects are going. It’s using an ancient law to keep these massive projects, most recently ID Cards, from public view…”
Humphrys asked me why the public should know what’s going on if [Gateway reviews] are internal stuff.
I said that so many big government IT projects have gone wrong, such as a prison service system [C-Nomis], police systems and at the Home Office but the government claims all is well. If Gateway reviews were published, Parliament and even people involved in the projects would be able to see how things were going. [There’s no automatic right for those involved in government projects to see Gateway review reports on the schemes they’re working on.]
I also said that the government has tried three times to keep the Gateway reviews secret. [A decision of the Information Commissioner went against the government’s case, as did a decision of the Information Tribunal, and it went to the High Court in another government appeal.]
The 1689 Bill of Rights was being used keep the reviews secret. This was being challenged by the Information Commissioner who wants the reviews published, in part to address the deficit in transparency and accountability.
“The government is happy to have independent rolling reports on schools and prisons but not itself when it comes to the big IT projects,” I said.
Humphrys wanted to know what difference it would make if the reviews were published. He asked: “What might we know we don’t already suspect?”
I said MPs would be able to ask questions for example about how ID Cards and other projects were going before they had letters from their constituents complaining about the service from government.
“The government says they want these reviews to be done frankly and honesty by the people they’re interviewing, and if there was a threat of publicity the civil servants who are doing the reviews would not be open and honest in them. Of course the Commissioner’s argument is that civil servants are very professional people and they’ll be honest and frank whether the reports are published or not.”
I’ve posted a separate, detailed entry on the High Court case on ID Cards gateway reviews, why the 1689 Bill of Rights was at the centre of the government’s arguments, and the role in the case of the Speaker of the House of Commons.