Thought for the day: Openness will improve public IT success

Richard Allan of the Liberal Democrats explains why they support publication of Gateway Reviews

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Richard Allan of the Liberal Democrats explains why they support publication of Gateway Reviews

 

 

 

As the political parties set out their stalls in the next few weeks, it is apparent that IT is of increasing importance to all of them.

The headline issues will remain the major public services such as health, education and tackling crime, but underpinning these will be commitments to improve performance and increase efficiency that depend on the use of new technology.

If any party is to deliver on its promises, it must get the IT right. The current Labour government has firmly pinned its colours to the IT mast with high-profile projects such as the national programme for IT in the NHS.

Questions are now rightly being asked about whether or not these are likely to succeed.

Some changes have been made that should increase the likelihood of successful delivery of technology projects in the public sector. In particular, the development of the Gateway Review process is a significant advance in subjecting all projects to independent review.

However, we have already seen instances of projects, such as the new tax credits system for the Inland Revenue, being given the all clear by Gateway Review and then developing problems when implemented.

If we are to scrutinise such projects properly, we need to be able to look at the reports compiled during the Gateway Review process and see how decisions were made in response to their recommendations.

Yet the government has so far refused to publish the Gateway Review reports. The Liberal Democrats support the call by Computer Weekly for publication and we have been campaigning on this issue in Parliament. As well as allowing us to look at what happened when things go wrong, access to the reviews would help us in examining proposals for new systems at an early stage.

For example, we know that assessments have been made of the technical feasibility of a national ID card system. Parliament can have a better debate about ID cards if this information is in the public domain, rather than depending on general assurances from government that it can produce a working system on time and to budget.

As well as being a major purchaser of technology in its own right, the government has a responsibility to oversee the development of this important sector of the UK economy.

This area has received far less attention than it deserves from the current administration. Part of the problem lies in the fact that responsibility is split across so many government departments.

The Treasury sets the financial rules within which contractors have to work. The Department for Trade & Industry oversees communications and intellectual property and engages in international negotiations that affect offshore outsourcing. The Department for Education and Skills decides on funding arrangements for courses that are needed by those entering the IT profession.

The Liberal Democrats have developed policies in all these areas that we believe would boost the technology sector in the UK. We believe that a greater degree of awareness of the importance of new technology is needed across government. Not only is the IT sector an important earner in itself, it is clear from the US and other countries that it is the key to improvements in productivity across the economy as a whole.

The government needs to place technology at the heart of its economic as well as its public services agenda.

There is no single solution to resolve all the challenges faced by the IT sector, but we believe that our mix of policies on government investment and an entrepreneurial economy are a pretty good recipe for success.

Richard Allan is the spokesman for IT for the Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats' policies on IT can be found on the party website: www.libdems.org.uk

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