Tories promise to learn from government IT disasters

A Conservative shadow minister has said that a Tory government would learn the lessons from past IT catastrophes, although he didn't go as far as promising...

A Conservative shadow minister has said that a Tory government would learn the lessons from past IT catastrophes, although he didn't go as far as promising an end to them.

The BBC's File on 4 programme asked Conservative health spokesman Stephen O'Brien whether a Conservative government would put an end to IT catastrophes.

Giving such a commitment would be "foolish and over-optimistic", given that government ministers are not the people delivering the product, O'Brien said.

"But I'm very confident the one thing we can do is learn the lessons from experience," he added. "I am confident that our process will minimise the chances for what are design errors."

He said he would hope to "set the policy to make sure that we get the tools that deliver that policy and that we commit the resources that are necessary".

File on 4 also asked whether the Conservatives would be dependent on a small number of big IT suppliers that have been involved in several large IT-related failures.

Speaking in an unbroadcast version of the interview, O'Brien said: "There are a limited number of suppliers who have either the expertise or the scale of what's required. They are not necessarily UK companies. We've had lots of discussions, ongoing discussions, with many of these suppliers, clearly in advance of us knowing we're going to form a government.

"It is not a potential government's view to identify who will be potential suppliers; far from it. On the contrary, it's going to be very necessary, if they want to have the chance to supply, they will have to row in behind what is a clear and supportable policy of transparency, because public money is involved."

File on 4 asked: "Isn't the reality going to be that the suppliers have you over a barrel because you say there are very few of them and they will be able to call the shots?"

O'Brien replied: "I think not. The marketplace out there is sufficiently competitive. If they want to be selling at scale, they'll have to have fantastic products, which are competitive, at fantastic prices, and with a tremendous service support that will give them the edge.

"If they don't have that, they will allow new entrants to compete for that business and I expect we'll see a little bit of churn. But at same time I think the commercial operators are commercial and they will look for the opportunities.

"I am not at all concerned or dismayed that we'll be having to have discussions with the very same people who've been having discussions with the current government, if we form the government."

He added that the Conservatives "very strongly encourage local innovation" and that "designing the systems and products that meet local needs is what will drive the market".

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