Over the past six months, the Conservative Party has laid out its plans and approach to information technology; our aim is to return the UK to the first rank of technology-driven economies, where both entrepreneurs as well as larger companies thrive and bring creativity and innovative services to the benefit of society.
However, alongside we are committed to reducing government interference in private affairs and addressing the complexity and waste endemic to so many of the current government's IT systems, many of which have run massively over-budget and behind deadlines, writes Francis Maud, Conservative shadow minister for the Cabinet Office.
Over the past 13 years of a Labour government has time and again tried to use IT as part of their big government approach to micromanage delivery and hold vast quantities of information about private individuals. This Labour philosophy requires enormous projects and databases (which are much harder to deliver than more modestly scaled ones).
It has inevitably led to many very large IT system failures: NPfIT in the NHS, C-Nomis in Justice, identity cards in the Home Office. Many of these systems have been built by an oligopoly of large suppliers, using bespoke, hugely expensive systems - to provide for the huge complexity involved - instead of buying commercial off-the-shelf systems and sharing systems within and across departments.
The Labour government desire to tell individuals what to do has been accompanied by an insatiable appetite for more and more private information in huge databases that create too much risk of data loss and loss of privacy. The Conservatives really do believe that citizens must be the fundamental owners of their own data, and should in most cases determine how the government can use that data.
Openness and transparency are important principles in the Conservative approach. So, we plan to make government data and IT spending information freely available. This will have two benefits: first, it will boost British jobs, businesses and social entrepreneurs who will build new applications and services using previously locked-up government data. According to research by Dr Rufus Pollock of Cambridge University, the lead author of the HM Treasury report on the economic value of open data, this will also create an estimated £6bn in additional value for the UK. Second, it will ensure that the government becomes accountable to hard-working tax payers for delivering IT that is valuable and value for money.
An important set of initiatives will ensure citizens' right to government data but as a first step we will publish online data on government spending (both central and local), civil service salaries, draft Bills, tender documents and contracts with government to allow third parties to interrogate and analyse them independently.
A Conservative government would procure technology for itself in a manner to encourage small and medium enterprises, as well as reduce the prohibitive costs of bidding for and supplying government business. These measures would include an ambition to design smaller projects and a level-playing field for users of open-source software.
A Conservative government is not looking for incremental solutions and cost reductions. In order to radically reduce spending without impacting outcomes, technology must be regarded much more as a tool than an end in itself - the huge cost savings in government will only occur when departments and councils conduct their businesses in fundamentally simpler and smarter ways.
Part of the reason IT projects continue to fail is that the underlying processes they support are obscenely convoluted and impossible to manage. No IT system can fix a bad underlying process.
Much of the Conservative ICT agenda is centred on improving the management of the existing ICT estate, not buying more of it. Hence we will start our time in government with a moratorium on all ICT procurements, in order to satisfy our requirements for value for money, rigour with suppliers and avoidance of embedding bad practice through IT.
This country has an impressive and long history of game-changing technology innovation and invention. The Conservatives will create the conditions to reinvent that tradition for the 21st century and beyond.