I have a footnote to Downing Street’s announcement that the health minister Lord Warner – the minister in charge of the NHS’s National Programme for IT [NPfIT] – is retiring this month, December 2006. Only three ago, in November 2006, John Oughton, Chief Executive of the Office of Government Commerce, which oversees IT in central government, told the Public Accounts Committee that Lord Warner was receiving weekly briefings on the NPfIT.
At a hearing on 27 November 2006, one of the committee members, MP Don Touhig, a former Labour minister, had asked Oughton:
“Ministers have to decide their priorities, of which they sometimes have so many – do you find that Ministers are being given the information to understand that IT projects are a major priority for them?
Oughton replied: “My experience with those programmes with which I have had the closest connections suggests to me that, yes, Ministers are.
“Let us consider the “Connecting for Health” programme, on which the National Audit Office reported earlier this year-the Committee took evidence in the summer.
“The Secretary of State and Health Ministers are involved very closely, with regular stock takes on a monthly and, in the case of Lord Warner, weekly basis, to ensure that they are absolutely up to date with the progress of the programme. I think that that is a very good model.”
Downing Street has confirmed that Lord Warner, aged 66, is retiring at the end of December 2006. It is for personal reasons and nothing to do with the NPfIT.
My comment: When it comes to ministers having a good knowledge of the progress or otherwise of large and risky IT projects, it is important they are briefed accurately, comprehensively and regularly; especially if they are on the verge of retirement.