Tony Blair's plans for wired-up government have been dealt a savage blow by new project review processes introduced by the Cabinet Office to prevent future IT disasters.
In a shock move, the Cabinet Office last week decided not to press ahead with its preferred supplier for the Government Gateway project, a consortium of Compaq, Microsoft, Cable & Wireless and KPMG.
The Government Gateway is the middleware project that aims to join up back-office IT systems in ministries, agencies, local authorities and health bodies, combined with an authentication service to ensure that only those entitled to information can access it.
Ministers have repeatedly said it is a vital part of the project to enable citizens to connect with public services through single points of access such as the UK Online portal.
In a joint statement, the Cabinet Office and Compaq said "detailed investigations" before the contract was signed "led to changes in the originally proposed approach to the design and development".
They added, "Given these changes, it has been decided that it is not possible to proceed to the implementation stage as originally intended."
A Cabinet Office spokesman told Computer Weekly, "The Government has launched one of the most rigorous campaigns ever to drive up standards in IT projects. To achieve higher standards we have to take tough decisions early and this is what we are doing.
"With public money at stake, this is the responsible and prudent decision to make. It is only right that we don't proceed with a contract in which we don't have appropriate confidence."
IT suppliers approve of the Government's prudence. "It appears as if the Government's new project review processes are beginning to catch potential problems early, and that is welcome," said John Higgins of the Computer Services & Software Association, which has co-ordinated suppliers' input into the E-Government policy discussion. "It is important that the results the Government was trying to achieve with this portal are delivered," he said.
The Cabinet Office said, "This decision will not impact the Government's target of getting all services online by 2005."
Computer Weekly understands that the Compaq consortium and the Cabinet Office could not agree the allocation of risk in the project, which will require the co-operation of hundreds of public sector bodies and where any failure will be highly visible.