Whitehall's shameful secrets

I am staggered that the government is trying to overturn a ruling that the gateway reviews of public sector projects should be published.

This is not some esoteric argument about freedom of information: basic principles of public and professional accountability are at stake.

It is not only that billions of pounds of taxpayers' money is spent on public sector IT each year, much of it wisely and effectively, but too much of it disastrously. It is about learning lessons, about spreading best practice and about not blaming IT for failures of politicians' making.

The Office of Government Commerce is fronting an appeal for the government over an order to publish information from the gateway reviews of the ID card scheme. It says disclosure would fundamentally undermine the review process because those involved would not be as frank in expressing their views and commercial organisations might not wish to be involved.

I have been approached by IT staff at organisations where a gateway review was being carried out. They talked about team members being coached in what to say and what not to say. They described how the more Bolshie members of the team were sent on leave or on courses just to keep them out of the way.

I have talked to gateway reviewers who, though keen to maintain some confidentiality in the process, would shake their heads in despair at the crude efforts to manage or manipulate the information they were presented with about public projects.

I have also talked to IT staff and reviewers who have found the whole gateway review process invaluable as a sanity check on projects.

Meanwhile, Intellect, the IT suppliers’ organisation, has made plain that its members would like to see some of the information from gateway reviews published. Intellect might be too refined to say it, but some of its members working in the public sector feel they are getting a bum rap when projects are reviewed.

If anyone wants to know just how much help public sector IT projects require, they need only look at the ongoing National Programme for IT in the NHS. The latest incident, where CSC is preventing the takeover of troubled supplier iSoft, is another example of just how problematic large scale public sector projects can be

So who benefits from public sector secrecy? And who is protecting who with this appeal? If the OGC appeal succeeds, bad politically motivated decisions about IT projects and bad project management will be hidden from view. If writing to your MP to complain made any difference, I would recommend it….

Now read:

ID card scheme costs rise by £400m

Tribunal orders government to publish gateway reviews of ID cards scheme

ID card scheme “at risk” and facing cost hike


Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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