Report hits out over Government IT transparency

A parliamentary select committee has slammed the lack of transparency in Government IT spending, claiming that contract information should be made public in order to improve efficiency.

Report hits out over Government IT transparency

In a report that makes a mockery of the Cabinet Office’s stance in its long-running battle with PC Pro over the findings of Sir Philip Green’s controversial spending review of Government IT, the committee called for far greater clarity to drive down contract prices.

The Public Administration Select Committee’s report, Government and IT – ‘A recipe for rip-offs’: Time for a new approach, said: “Making detailed information on IT expenditure publicly available for scrutiny would enhance the Government’s ability to generate savings, by allowing external challenge of its spending decisions.”

Government should provide information about system architecture and design, about the hardware and software it uses, and the rate paid

The report claimed the Government had already made progress on making more information available through the Transparency Board and its Contract Finder, but PC Pro‘s experience shows such a move would entail a change of mindset.

The Cabinet Office initially refused a Freedom of Information request from PC Pro concerning Green’s review which, for example, claimed one department was spending £86 on printer cartridges, while another was paying as much as £398, without giving details of the cartridges.

Challenged to identify the exact makes and models involved, the Cabinet Office refused a Freedom of Information Request on the basis that “disclosure of the printer cartridge and laptop information would undermine current negotiations with our supplier to standardise all units onto a single specification and price”.

Despite a recent victory in the FOI process, almost ten months after the initial report was published, we are still waiting for access to details of Green’s findings.

Public by default

The select committee report underlined PC Pro’s stance that top line figures had little relevance to anyone trying to assess Government waste.

“More information should be made public by default,” the select committee found. “If the Government wants external experts to suggest ways of how it can reduce expenditure, publication of the raw spend on IT reveals little.

“Wherever possible the Government should provide information about system architecture and design, about the hardware and software it uses, and the rate paid for commodities and services.

“This would enable external commentators and the incumbents’ competitors to be in a better position to suggest ways in which existing systems and services could be delivered differently, as well as at a lower cost.”

“Restrict confidentiality deals”

However, the report went on to reveal how such a data revolution would shake the covert relationships between Government buyers and suppliers, which have conventionally conducted negotiations behind closed doors.

“We recognise that there will be resistance to this approach,” the report said. “Governments have traditionally limited their ability to publish this information by signing commercial confidentiality agreements with companies.

“In future such agreements must be severely restricted to enable the Government to publish detailed contractual information about how much they are paying for different services and products within a contract. This should disadvantage nobody if all suppliers are treated the same.”

According to the committee, a more open system would allow incumbents’ rivals to challenge whether the Government was receiving a good deal, putting pressure on companies to deliver more for less.

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