Minister opens up on contracts

A government minister has, for the first time, set out formal proposals for making information on IT contracts publicly...

A government minister has, for the first time, set out formal proposals for making information on IT contracts publicly available.

The move follows a Computer Weekly campaign to improve disclosure and accountability on major projects.

But Andrew Smith, the secretary of state for work and pensions, has also set out a long list of information on IT contracts that he wants kept secret.

Appearing before the work and pensions select committee, which is investigating why many government IT projects fail, Smith said the issue of what information is disclosed to MPs and the public was "profoundly important".

Parliament and the public should be apprised of the "important and often difficult competing considerations that there are in how we bring these big projects forward," he said.

Computer Weekly has called for Gateway reviews - evaluations of IT projects by experts working for the Office of Government Commerce - to be published.

Reading from a prepared statement, Smith said his department would normally be happy to publicly supply detail on:

  • The suppliers chosen for a contact

  • The amount paid to date to a particular supplier under a particular contract

  • The amount paid out more generally to a company across a number of contracts

  • A broad outline of some aspects of the contract, including the circumstances where termination and compensation to the department might be considered.

His list of details the department did not want generally published included:

  • The overall value and time period of the contract

  • Details of the service levels agreed and required

  • The proportion of payments withheld

  • The amounts paid by the supplier to the department because of its failure to perform.

Archy Kirkwood, the committee chairman, told Smith that his proposals did not include the publication of Gateway reviews and he warned the minister that unless Parliament was better informed, select committees may order independent audits.

"Sending in auditors every time there is a problem is a bit extreme," Kirkwood told Smith. "If we can reach some sort of accommodation, and get an understanding, that would be very helpful."

Smith replied that it would be "good to explore mutually acceptable ways of getting performance information on projects into the public domain". He added, "Whether publication of Gateway reviews is necessarily the best way demands careful thought."

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