Ex-government CIO favours publishing Gateway reviews

Former government CIO Ian Watmore has told MPs he favours publishing Gateway reviews - although he recognises that government policy is to keep them confidential.

Former government CIO Ian Watmore has told MPs he favours publishing Gateway reviews - although he recognises that government policy is to keep them confidential.

The statement by Watmore, who leaves the civil service this month to become chief executive of the Football Association, supports Computer Weekly's long-running campaign to persuade the government, and particularly the Office of Government Commerce, which runs the Gateway review scheme, to publish review reports.

If published, the reviews would allow MPs and others to see internal assessments on the progress - or lack of it - of large, risky IT-based projects such as the ID cards scheme, the £12.7bn NHS IT programme, initiatives to modernise systems at HM Revenue & Customs and IT work to support the Olympics.

The OGC has only ever published two early Gateway reviews on the ID cards scheme - and then only after it spent years fighting rulings under the Freedom of Information Act.

Watmore spoke in favour of publishing the reviews at the hearing of the Public Accounts Committee last month into why big projects keep failing and mistakes are repeated.

He said there had been a furore when government published capability reviews - which give a green, amber or red light to the managerial abilities of entire departments. But the fuss over their publication died down quickly and capability reviews are now part of the furniture, he said.

Watmore told public accounts committee MP Richard Bacon: "I am with you in that I would prefer Gateway reviews to be published because of the experience we had with capability reviews. We had the same debate [as with Gateway reviews] and we published them."

The danger with publishing Gateway reviews is that "people will not talk about what their real issues are and things will be suppressed from the Gateway reviewers and you will end up with two reviews, one that is publishable and one that is the private one".

He added: "Current government policy is to keep them confidential but personally, on balance, I would publish for the reasons you have said."

So impressed is Watmore with the Gateway review system that he may adopt the scheme in the Football Association.

Computer Weekly put it to the Office of Government Commerce that Ian Watmore, as a former government CIO, supports the publication of review reports. Its spokesman was unmoved.

He replied: "The Office of Government Commerce is committed to transparency and public accountability, which is evident in the emphasis placed on publishing the results of a wide range of OGC activities... Gateway reviews are conducted on a confidential basis for senior responsible owners [SROs]. This confidentiality allows interviewees to speak frankly and openly to reviewers about any issues facing the project or programme.

"Because OGC regards SROs as accountable for the project or programme, and for any remedial action required by the review, there is no requirement for OGC Gateway reports to go further, although it is accepted best practice for SROs to circulate to the appropriate people within their project and department.

"In addition, lessons learnt from Gateway reviews are beginning to be published on the OGC website. The recent decision from the Information Tribunal on disclosure of Gateway reports on the identity cards programme made it clear that neither they, nor the information commissioner, believe that all Gateway reviews should be disclosed."

Watmore tells MPs why so many Government projects fail >>

Lessons learned from Gateway reviews >>

Read more on IT project management