OGC heads for High Court to guard results of Gateway review on ID cards

Senior civil servants and lawyers spent several hours in a secret meeting on Monday before opting to go to the High Court to try to stop the results of early "Gateway reviews" on ID cards being published.

Senior civil servants and lawyers spent several hours in a secret meeting on Monday before opting to go to the High Court to try to stop the results of early "Gateway reviews" on ID cards being published.

Gateway reviews are independent assessments of risky IT-based projects and programmes throughout their lifecycle. The reviews are managed by the Treasury's Office of Government Commerce.

In January 2005 the OGC received a request under the Freedom of Information Act for early Gateway reviews on the ID cards scheme to be published. The OGC refused the request and the case went before the Information Commissioner.

Last July the Commissioner ruled that the reviews cards should be published, a decision which could have opened the way for Gateway reviews on other risky IT projects to be published.

But the OGC appealed against this decision to the Information Tribunal. On 2 May 2007, the Information Tribunal rejected the OGC’s appeal.

This gave the OGC 30 days to decide whether to appeal to the High Court, a deadline which expired yesterday [30 May 2007].  Launching a High Court appeal is not a straightforward decision. The High Court will consider an appeal only on specific points of law, not on the OGC’s general disagreement with the decision of the Information Tribunal.

Two House of Commons committees have also recommended that Gateway reviews are published – the Public Accounts Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee.

Computer Weekly has campaigned for Gateway reviews to be published because we believe that secrecy and a lack of accountability contribute to large-scale failures of IT-based projects and programmes in the public sector.

The High Court case is not due to be heard for several months. This means that the OGC’s decision to appeal postpones any requirement by the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal to publish Gateway reviews. 

An OGC spokesman said: "We do not agree with the tribunal's findings on where the public interest lies in relation to what information should be disclosed and what it is appropriate to withhold.

"So far, the Gateway process has helped achieve over £2.5bn in value for money savings. In the government's view, disclosure would seriously undermine the effectiveness of the process, as confidentiality is essential to it."

Computer Weekly will be publishing evidence in the next few weeks to support the findings of the Information Commissioner - and the Information Tribunal - that the results of Gateway reviews should be published.

Even the IT staff, users and potential users of systems have no automatic right at present to see the results of reviews at present.

We believe that the Office of Government Commerce has wasted public money, and is continuing to waste public money on its legal fight to stop the reviews being published. The appeal also indicates that the government is willing to prolong Whitehall’s culture of secrecy.

Civil servants ordered to destroy Gateway reports >>

ID cards: 'openness would damage project reviews' >>

Reid announces rising ID card costs while Blair takes the spotlight >>

Office of Government Commerce >>

Public Accounts Committee >>

Work and Pensions Committee >>

Tony Collins' IT projects blog >>

Comment on this article: computer.weekly@rbi.co.uk

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