Tory Paper Demands Government Give Back Our Data

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A new Conservative think tank report is calling for citizen-centric, open source IT development to put an end to wasteful, monolithic central government IT projects.

A new report released today into central government IT strategy has slammed its ambitions as unworkable, wasteful and at odds with citizen needs.

It’s ours: why we, not government, must own our data,” published by the Centre for Policy Studies called for more open standards and open source development, which it said could save as much as 50 percent on current spending.

The paper cited estimates that only 30 percent of IT projects currently funded by the £18.5 billion spent annually by UK government on IT succeeded.

And it was highly critical of the current Transformational Government strategy, which it said relied on huge centralised databases, which only served the public need as the state specified.

While the state should remain the default holder of personal citizen data to ensure universal citizen access, the Tory think tank’s paper advocated outing citizens on control their own data.

For example, it said: “The individual could, if he or she so chose, use HealthVault or Google Health to store their health records and to communicate with their GP or hospital. This would obviate the need for the late and over-budget £20 billion NHS database.”

The report added that this would require all public services to use open data standards and would release monolithic public sector IT projects from the stranglehold of a select group of suppliers and consultancies with the scope to manage them.

“[Current government IT strategy] relies on a structurally unsound monopoly, with poor security, little consent, enormous cost and a naïve belief that government knows best,” it wrote.

In response, it advocated more cloud computing-enabled architectures, along the lines of that offered by Amazon, where “access does not equal control”. And this strategy would allow for more IT diversity and flexibility, through the use of open source and web-based technologies.

And the report’s author, Liam Maxwell is a Conservative councillor and Policy and Performance Lead at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, which recently announced £1.7 million worth of savings from an ongoing virtualisation project.

“In my five years’ experience as head of the OSC [Open Source Consortium] was that central government only ever played lip service to the idea of open standards and open source,” said Mark Taylor, chief executive of open source and Linux services company, Sirius Corporation.

Taylor stressed his views were apolitical and reflected his agreement with “underlying philosophy of the paper’s strategy”. “It advocates those tech trends the government should make use of, like cloud, software-as-a-service (SaaS) and web 2.0, which are all underpinned by open source technology,” he said.

He added: “The other political parties have been genuinely interested in open source for years.”

Another, recent Socitm report also called for radical government IT strategy investment changes.