Labour Government’s IT Record Faces Fresh Criticism

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Previous Labour ministers are accused of ordering expensive IT projects to “sex up” their policies

The man now in charge of Whitehall’s efficiency drive has issued a damming assessment of the Labour’s government’s IT track record.

Civil servant Ian Watmore was formerly Tony Blair’s CIO chief, and is now permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, in charge of the Coalition Government’s efficiency drive, and heads up its Efficiency and Reform Group.

Watmore hit out at the previous Labour government, which he accused of creating huge IT projects simply to make policies “sound sexy”. He gave the hard hitting assessment while giving evidence to the ‘Good Governance: the Effective Use of IT’ public select committee.

Make It Sexy

“People think that they need to have a piece of technology to make their policy or their project sound sexy, so you either have technology not thought about or technology thought about in the wrong way right at the beginning,” he said.

According to the BBC, Watmore also told the public administration committee that Labour’s procurement had been over-ambitious and badly-managed.

However this is not the first time that the previous Labour government has been accused of gross incompetence regarding IT projects.

In January 2010 an investigation by the Independent newspaper exposed the shocking cost of the Labour party’s botched IT projects during its period in power. That investigation found that British taxpayers had been left with a bill of more than £26 billion for computer systems that either suffered severe delays or ran over budget, or that were cancelled altogether.

The coalition government meanwhile has already halted many large IT projects to save cash and earlier this week revealed its new ICT strategy aims to save the government millions by moving to “smaller more manageable projects” that cost no more than £100m.

Watmore was previously the managing director of IT services giant Accenture, before being appointed as head of Tony Blair’s e-Government Unit in 2004. Watmore then headed up the then Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit. He then left government briefly before Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude brought him back into government last year.

According to the BBC, Watmore told the select committee that the “so-called IT disasters” of recent years were not down to technical problems but “over-ambitious projects” that were expected to deliver complex changes at a national level on a single day, “the so-called ‘Big Bang’ implementation”.

Open Source And Apple

And Watmore made clear that he wanted to to end the UK government’s reliance on Microsoft products, which are apparently used by about 90 percent of civil servants.

Watmore reportedly said that the coalition government was committed to using more “open source” software to save cash – but had to balance this with concerns about how easily it could be “hacked”.

And then Watmore went on to endorse the use of Apple products within government.

According the BBC, Watmore said that his “personal” view was that Apple products, which he said he used at home, should also be used more in government.

“I personally would like to see people move off Microsoft products onto open source or use Apple technology,” he said. “I use Apple at home. I know it’s not very open but I use it. I love it, it works and I think it is great – I’m Steve Jobs’ best customer,” he said.

“I think we, in government, have an opportunity to change that game quite dramatically, particularly on desktop technology, by getting greater use of open products.”

Cost Cutting

The coalition government meanwhile has made progress to scale back government spending.

It has already renegotiated IT contracts with large vendors by signing ‘memorandums of understanding‘ in an effort to cut costs. HP, Oracle, Microsoft, Atos Origin and Capgemini have all signed, as well as several other big name IT services firms.

Francis Maude also revealed last July that the government would scrap hundreds of unnecessary and expensive government websites and slash the cost of the remaining sites to save millions of pounds.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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