The G-Cloud strategy was dismissed as unnecessary and government IT procurement slated at the PASC inquiry
The government’s approach to ICT implementation and procurement was heavily criticised by representatives of the local authority sector yesterday at the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) inquiry.
First to lay into the attack was Martin Ferguson, the head of policy for the Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm). He told PASC chair Bernard Jenkins, Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, that central government does not consider the policy development until too late in the development process and tends to be led by the technology.
He said, “One of the ways that it could be addressed is by looking to local government and the approach we take, which is very much starting at the policy end of the spectrum. What are the key policies in a particular area? What are the policy drivers there? What are the priorities that need to be pursued in terms of reforming public services – making public services more efficient – and driving the information requirements and business change around those priorities and the technology to then underpin that.”
IT vendors in the driving seat
Ferguson was joined by Mark Adams-Wright, CIO for Suffolk County Council, and David Wilde, CIO for Westminster City Council. All three seemed in agreement that government ITC implementation is driven too much by the large IT vendors that are called in to advise on and implement the infrastructure.
Ferguson added that starting at the technology end of the spectrum is the reason why so many government projects run into trouble and used the change from the current benefit structure to the Universal Credit system as his example.
“Rather than start at the technology end of the spectrum – as we would argue has been the case for many central government projects – our concern around the Universal Credit is that it seems to be being driven towards another big government IT project,” he said. “We would argue that the best procurement, in terms of practice, is at this pan-local level. There’s plenty of work done by Socitm over the last 10 years that shows we get better value for money than the government does from these big framework projects
By pan-local, he means that local authorities look across their entire infrastructure of services: local authority, health services, blue light services, transport authorities, housing associations and suchlike. This ensures interoperability and can also provide cost-savings. Socitm has been campaigning to stretch this policy as a pan-local/pan-central government infrastructure to ensure that central and local governments can work together.
G-Cloud should be privatised
Shortly after Ferguson’s critique, Wilde, who has committed to making Westminster 100 percent reliant on cloud services by 2015, spent some time explaining the benefits of the strategy. This led Jenkins to ask: “So do you think the government’s concept of a G-Cloud, a nationalised cloud, is a mistake for most government data?”
Wilde responded, “Why have a nationalised one when there are so many privatised ones out there already?”
“So the government doesn’t need to create its own cloud to benefit from cloud computing?” queried Jenkins.
“I don’t think so,” Wilde replied. “If we look at where central government is today, much of the central infrastructure is already outsourced – it’s outsourced to third parties. So, in effect, the government is already part way there in terms of commercial, almost-cloud-based services.”
In support of Socitm’s pan-local/pan-central initiative, Wilde said, “We have two large government departments responsible for means-tested benefits and we have 400-plus local authorities responsible for a sliver of means-tested benefits: housing benefit. Between [the local authorities] there are 400 means tested housing benefit systems – plus the big central government one.”
His implication was that these could be linked to save substantial sums of money invested in largely duplicated systems.
The PASC inquiry continues as it examines the challenges that face the government in its implementation of its flagship “Big Society” policy.