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Treasury chief calls for action on public sector IT problems

Problems on government IT projects are ‘systemic’ and must be eliminated, according to a Treasury Office chief executive

Outlining plans for a new high-level forum between computer suppliers and government departments, Peter Gershon, chief executive of the Treasury’s newly formed Office of Government Commerce, said: “There appear to be some systemic problems. We agree with the Computing Services & Software Association [CSSA, the suppliers’ trade association] that the right way to deal with this is to set up a joint forum at a senior level between government and the IT industry to identify the causes of these systemic problems. We will then agree a course of remedial measures.”

Gershon’s comments were made at a packed CSSA meeting this week.

John Higgins, director general of the CSSA, said there are “additional risks” posed by the programme to modernise government. “It is more important now that we don't let IT projects fail,” he said.

Independent consultant Colin Tully told the meeting there was a “crisis” in government IT. He added that the “failures place the Blair Government’s Modernising Government initiative at risk”.

CSSA members met on Monday to discuss ways of implementing the recommendations in two parallel reports on how to avoid IT disasters in government.

The first report, Getting IT right for government, which contains contributions from Computer Weekly, was published by the CSSA and fed into the Cabinet Office’s publication, Successful IT – modernising government in action.

Gershon, who will chair the new forum, which is due to have its first meeting in September, said: “There is a perception in the industry that [IT acquisition decisions] are made predominantly on lowest initial price. There is a perception on the government side that industry bids low to win contracts and subsequently uses every opportunity to make money in ‘get well’ programmes.

“We have to get to the bottom of what is driving these perceptions and understand whether there is an underlying root cause problem,” he added.

Government departments that have suffered major IT disasters include the Passport Agency, the Immigration Service, the Prison Service, the Lord Chancellor’s Department, Inland Revenue, the Department of Social Security, the Post Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

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