NAO: Government has work to do on IT reform

A National Audit Office (NAO) report released today has identified that the government saved £316 million between 2011 and 2012 through its ICT savings initiatives, but raised questions over central government department’s relationship with suppliers, the future of innovative services in the public sector, and the quality of datasets.

The Cabinet Office had said that it saved some £354 million over the period, but only 89 percent of this could actually be verified according to the NAO’s savings standards. Further to this, analysts have questioned the significance of £354 million of savings, when compared to the billions of pounds that is spent on ICT annually.

Although the NAO said that the government is making headway with its IT reform plans, it also warned that this has largely focused on cost reduction up until this point, and going forward it should make sure that this does not impact on delivering innovative online services to the public and departments.

“The Cabinet Office has made a good start on reducing spending on ICT by departments. However, it needs to develop a more comprehensive assessment of the impact and effectiveness of its ICT and procurement reform initiatives,” said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office.

“The big challenge will be to move from savings initiatives to achieving digital transformation of the civil service and the public services it provides.”

The NAO even notes that suppliers are getting restless with the government’s slow approach to adopting the innovative solutions that they are making available.

Questions have also been raised over whether the savings fully reflect what is happening across central government departments, considering the NAO was only able to assess data from 17 central government departments and 69 arms-length bodies. The report urges the Government Procurement Service to ramp up its efforts to increase the amount of data that can be collected across the public sector.

Finally, there was no mention of the G-Cloud throughout the 50 page report. Given that the G-Cloud initiative is one of the key planks in the government’s agenda to break up expensive IT contracts that are delivered by traditional IT vendors, and deliver more public sector work to SMEs, it is a surprising omission.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said, "We are pleased that the NAO recognises that our efforts to cut the cost of government ICT are working. As they acknowledge, our ICT reforms and spending controls saved the taxpayer £316 million last year alone. And the NAO has confirmed that we are on course to meet the tough targets which we set ourselves.

"But because ICT spending was so wasteful in the past, we also know that there is still a long way to go. We must accelerate the pace of change. That’s why we are determined to fully open up government ICT to smaller, more innovative companies, and to embrace open source technology.

"As we reform the Civil Service, the Government has committed to providing 'digital-by-default' services designed around the needs of the user, as set out in its Digital Strategy and the departmental digital strategies published at the end of last year. This April, the digitisation of the first wave of public services will begin, saving an estimated £1.2 billion by 2015."

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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