The Financial Times reports that the Conservatives have asked Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, to ensure that no big IT contracts are signed in the run-up to the general election.
It comes after Computer Weekly’s disclosure that Health Secretary Andy Burnham and his officials are seeking to sign new NPfIT deals, worth about £3bn, before the end of this month, ahead of the general election.
The deals could tie the hands of the next government – though the Tories have announced that they wish to halt and renegotiate contracts with the NPfIT local service providers BT and CSC.
Referring to large IT contracts in general, Francis Maude,the shadow Cabinet Office minister in charge of plans for a transitionto government should the Tories win, has told Sir Gus that “there is noconceivable reason why these contracts need to be signed now”.
Maude said that Tories would expect any civil servants to seek written approval from ministers before signing a deal.
O’Donnell has rejected Maude’s request. He says that ministers cannot stop governing in the run-up to a general election.
He said in a letter to the Opposition:
“Ministers areentitled to take decisions about the administration of the country’saffairs. Civil servants have a duty to support them in this function byproviding impartial and objective advice.
“They will always prioritise value for money when advising ministers onany course of action.
“Value for money assessments will balance the costof any delay against potential costs arising from uncertainty about thefuture. The forthcoming general election does introduce an element ofuncertainty, but it would be inappropriate for civil servants toanticipate any particular election result.”
Stephen Roberts, principal analyst at Kable, said: “The six week shutdown in the run-up to an election is already a hindrance to procurementplanning.
“While Maude’s concern about politicised issues such as the NPfIT areunderstandable, it would be a shame if there was further delay topressing but uncontroversial Whitehall procurements such as the Foreignand Commonwealth Office’s telecommunications replacement, the sharedservice procurement for the Ministry of Justice and the consolidationproposals at Communities and Local Government.”
The Independent yesterday said that Labour was trying to sign a range of contracts before the election. It quoted an unnamed minister as saying:
“We are pushing hard on what we can getthrough by the end of March and asking civil servants to prioritisethat, rather than medium- and long-term projects which could not becompleted by the election.”
Tories slippery on committing to Government IT reform – IT Projects Blog