The Cabinet Office is taking legal advice over its £5.8bn cost-cutting IT programme after admitting that its G-Cloud project presents a significant challenge under EU procurement law.
The G-Cloud project, through which the Cabinet Office hopes to consolidate datacentres across the public and voluntary sectors, would be a radical culmination of plans first presented in the April 2009 Operational Efficiency Programme. But the project is still waiting for approval under the coalition government's spending review.
Andy Tait, deputy director of the G-Cloud and computing consolidation programmes, said the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) was helping the Cabinet Office solve the "not insignificant" challenge it faced in ensuring the G-Cloud's legality under EU procurement law.
"We are trying to do something fundamentally different," he told public sector CIOs at the Socitm 2010 conference in Brighton.
"We are trying to work out how we can legally do a procurement once, but with one lead organisation. We want the first person to procure a product to procure it on behalf of the Crown and then once they've procured it, gone through that competition, for us to be able to publish that application, that service, into the cloud so it can be consumed by anybody else without having to go through all of those steps," he said.
"There's no question there are challenges around how we achieve that, and that's why we have OGC as the specialist helping us work out how we would achieve that."
The Cabinet Office wants to use G-Cloud to aggregate the buying power of the entire public sector, as well as the third sector, and hopes it will cut 30% off the government's £17bn IT budget.
The scheme will depend in part on the completion of the Public Sector Network, which would turn the UK's public sector communications infrastructure into a "network of networks" like the internet.
Tate said the whole project will be overseen by common standards set by an ICT Authority that sets common standards and processes, and co-ordinates the consolidation.
The Cabinet Office wants to consolidate the 300,000 computer servers and "thousands" of datacentres operated separately across the UK public sector.
Local authority IT chiefs were hot on the idea, but did not expect to see a G-Cloud for some years. They were meanwhile pressing ahead with their own local plans to share services and consolidate IT assets.
Numerous authorities, such as Kent, have already created their own versions of the public sector network.
Jos Crease, president of Socitm and CIO at Hampshire County Council, told Computer Weekly that common standards would allow piecemeal work done now in different corners of the public sector to be assembled, as components of the PSN and the cloud, in a network of networks.
Phil Gibson, chair of the PSN Governing Body, said it would follow that the public sector could share and consolidate its IT resources when it had a common communications infrastructure.
Supporters of the cloud say councils don't need all to have their own separate revenues and benefits applications, or rates software, or payroll systems, and so on.
Jackie Hudson, head of ICT strategy at Hammersmith & Fulham Council, which is seeking to share its resources with neighbouring councils Westminster and Kensington, said a government cloud would be preferable to negotiating bilateral arrangements with other authorities every time they identified a resource they might share.
The "standardisation and simplification" promised under the G-Cloud were set as the watchwords for public sector IT under the Cabinet Office's 2009 Operational Efficiency Programme.
The two other primary prongs of the present government's cost-cutting scheme - a software app store, and the consolidation of ICT infrastructure - were also set out in the 2009 review.