Transparency is not a dirty word

The machinery of UK government, after decades of major IT disasters, is slowly being upgraded to give Parliament timely, factual...

The machinery of UK government, after decades of major IT disasters, is slowly being upgraded to give Parliament timely, factual information on the state of large projects that may be failing.

At a hearing of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, MPs from the three main parties gave their support to Computer Weekly's Shaking Up Government IT campaign which aims to improve transparency and accountability on complex high-risk projects.

During the hearing, the heads of the PAC, the National Audit Office and the Office of Government Commerce accepted that Parliament needs timely information. At the hearing, the PAC joined the work and pensions committee in seeking up-to-date scrutiny of IT projects by Parliament.

This does not mean that all public sector IT projects are doomed to failure. Both committees recognise - as ComputerWeekly does - that the government has had some successes, such as the introduction of pension credits and projects managed by the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency. These are shining examples of good practice.

There are, however, other multibillion-pound projects that are in danger of travelling at high speed, shrouded in a thick fog of secrecy and bureaucracy, and insouciant to the hazards that might lie in wait for them. The ID card scheme and the NHS's national IT programme are two examples that greatly concern this publication.

Computer Weekly has undertaken its duty to report IT disasters with the principal aim of seeing the lessons of past mistakes being avoided in future projects. It has been a profoundly frustrating experience to have chronicled so many failures where the same mistakes have been repeated, but no one has acknowledged responsibility.

Transparency and accountability are not dirty words. They should not be treated as factors that could intimidate civil servants into not expressing their concerns freely. So it is gratifying that Computer Weekly's work has been cited in several parliamentary events in the past month: during a Commons debate on NHS IT and at the hearings of two select committees.

But such recognition of the principles Computer Weekly has espoused will prove pointless if they are not accepted as policy and implemented. Parliament has recognised the need for reliable information on high-risk projects from the departments. Indeed, MPs are demanding it as a matter of urgency. Whether they get it is up to government, which must show a genuine commitment to ending the shameful history of IT disasters.

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