Good Governance - Effective use of IT

Written evidence submitted by Alex Stobart, Enterprising Scotland Limited (IT 08)



1. How well is technology policy co-ordinated across Government?

2. How effective are its governance arrangements?

3. Have past lessons from NAO and OGC reviews about unsuccessful IT programmes been learnt and applied?

4. How well is IT used in the design, delivery and improvement of public services?

5. What role should IT play in a ‘post-bureaucratic age’?

6. What skills does Government have and what are those it must develop in order to acquire IT capability?

7. How well do current procurement policies and practices work?

8. What infrastructure, data or other assets does government need to own, or to control directly, in order to make effective use of IT?

9. How will public sector IT adapt to the new ‘age of austerity’?

10. How well does Government take advantage of new technological developments and external expertise?

11. How appropriate is the Government’s existing approach to information security, information assurance and privacy?

12. How well does the UK compare to other countries with regard to government procurement and application of IT systems?

· There is no effective IT policy or governance across Government. Whitehall departments fight for their independence at all times, and Cabinet Office is too weak to stop this.

· EU procurement law encourages antagonism, confrontation and contributes to poor outcomes. IT service design should be a collaborative, iterative process, not a red v. blue corner fight

· There is conflict between the existing government public service providers, IT companies, innovators and the public. Citizens play next to no role in IT service design, so it is no surprise that what is constructed is rarely fit for purpose.

· Existing Government IT procurement only involves government civil servants and suppliers. It neglects, even excludes citizens, SMEs and innovators.

· Government will salami slice IT spend in this "age of austerity", when what it should do is totally re-assess its procedures and roles & responsibilities with a systems thinking review that includes innovators and citizens.

· The UK Government is "institutionally incapable" of effective procurement and application of IT systems. 30 years of hurt requires radical re-appraisal.


1. There is no apparent IT policy across Government. Nor is there much co-ordinated policy of any description across Government. Government appears to be a collection of Whitehall departments; IT purchasing is one more way of protecting themselves by designing complexity, and building deeper and deeper, and more and more intractable systems e.g. NHS for IT. Large firms and consultancies only add to this accretion of inept service offerings.


2. Again, it appears that IT governance across Whitehall is seemingly non-existent. The Cabinet Office has not delivered effective IT design and standards, and the OGC is incompetent in respect of IT procurement. Departments and third party vendors are well able to exploit civil servants’ vanity, Ministers’ ambition or find other means to purchase whatever they want.


3. No, because they have no teeth. Where there are jobs for life, no sanctions for failure and no regard to cost or value, as has apparently been the case for the last 30 years, it is not surprising we are where we are. No civil servant has ever been held accountable, let alone sacked for wasting something like £ 16,000,000,000 on NHS for IT. If this one carries no sanctions, what will? The public are left bemused.


4. IT is generally used extremely poorly, with some exceptions. Government is wasteful and still bingeing on the 1997 – 2009 spending boom. It is unable to think or act like the people it is supposed to serve. Public servants are easily entranced by the Big 4, or management consultants. SMEs and sole traders are not heard.

5. Trade bodies like Intellect further cement the cosy relationships, much like the MOD and Defence contractors. Value for money, and fit for purpose come second to oligopoly behaviour. " No civil servant is sacked for buying IBM ". " No citizen receives value for money from Government ICT spend ".


6. A post-bureaucratic age is

" ... about showing an understanding of people, in how we make policy and design government and public services.. "

7. quotes amongst others the CX of Brighton Council -

" There is a three-way divide between existing public service providers, who understand the context and constraints on change, the public themselves, who give legitimacy and are best able to articulate their needs and aspirations, and innovators both inside and outside traditional public service organisations. "

Government ( central or local ) IT public service providers traditionally show very little regard for people and the public; they are not consulted in service design , so the solutions we receive are very poor . There has been a paper on post-bureaucratic IT The report – ‘ Better for Less: How to make Government IT deliver savings ’  (iBook here )- investigates the quagmire of government IT.

8. The British government currently spends somewhere between £16 billion and £23 billion on IT every year. The astonishing lack of clarity over expenditure is symptomatic of appalling failures in IT strategy, procurement, and process. This cannot be allowed to continue, especially during a time of spending cuts in frontline services. The annual cost dwarfs some government departments. It is three times the amount we spend on the army, more than the Department for Transport. Worse, it has been designed badly and, unfortunately this time, the process has been built to last. The problems come from ineffective procurement – much of which is waste.

9. Prof. Stephen Coleman in his paper "The Network-Empowered Citizen" describes why we need to take these new digital movements seriously and find some way to connect them to our decision-making processes –

Governments must learn to engage constructively with online civic networks. Engaging with entails more than nodding recognition and occasional funding. Rather than inviting citizens to visit badly-designed government web sites to find civic information or interact with elected representatives, politicians and officials should be going to the civic networks in which people articulate and represent their own interests and values – and they should be pointing other citizens in the same direction. Just as in the past politicians spent many evenings in drafty civic halls or behind tables in public libraries, they should now be seeking out and entering into dialogue with the online networks that represent  the new loci of active citizenship.  (Coleman, Networked Citizen)

10. I would contend for example, that NetMums and other informed citizen’s groups and social enterprises/ third sector players plus a local authority and an innovative service design company could potentially procure a more effective IT system for " children 0 to 18 " and their life experiences, than 8 Whitehall departments and 400 English councils. The UK government is centralising and vertical; it prefers to deal with lobby groups and big suppliers, not citizens and representative’s group.

11. Our lives as people growing up are not lived following the EU procurement law rules, and UK civil service specifications of IT systems. That’s why the outcomes of the latter do not ever do what we would want. We therefore all waste billions of hours and pounds living with the consequences. Have you ever tried to get HMRC to answer the phone? Since the Aspire contract, wait times have doubled and service standards fallen by 50% again. If people, businesses and charities organised the tax system, re-designed it and built it, we could not do any worse.


12. Some might argue Government needs very few IT skills other than the ability to commission. All other activities can be out-sourced. Suffolk Council have decided this is the route for everything they do.


13. UK government procurement is inherently flawed and fails us over and over again, because EU law encourages antagonistic, confrontational and competitive behaviour between Government and supplier. As configured in the UK, it is presently a Prisoner’s Dilemna with no way out. Iteration, dialogue, collaboration, step by step co-production, joint research and development do not happen.

14. Glaxo would not develop a drug by specifying a "set of deliverables" tender document, then walking away and waiting for bids. Why does Government expect to develop IT that is fit for purpose through slavishly following EU procurement? The UK government must follow agile procurement methods, work with SMEs and service design companies, and talk with users, to re-design IT.


15. Infrastructure could all be owned by third parties. Private data must be owned by the individual. At present, UK government probably has 350 views of me and my data. None of them will be completely correct. Life would be so much easier if I maintained my private data, and told government of changes, or when I wanted my data used. There is a proto-type by Mydex of personal data stores which is encouraging


16. Government will adapt to "the new age of austerity" by salami cuts. This is sub-optimal. What is should do is take the opportunity to look at Singapore, or Estonia and re-configure along systems thinking lines.What do people want from government; how would innovators design and deliver it; and how does IT support it?

17. What is the role of government, and why? As a single parent, I would not enjoy having to deal with 50 agencies to help look after my child. Why is the citizen never consulted in the system design? Because they are not, we have a hotch-potch of garbage IT systems, and bolt-ons, with thousands of humans chasing their tails to try and correct it.


18. Government cannot take account of most new technological developments at the right time, because EU law means they are at least 2 to 3 years behind the curve. This is the time it takes to think about it, write the procurement, go through the tenders, make a decision and then purchase and deploy.

19. External expertise – on the whole the voices that are listened to by UK government would be larger companies and industry lobbyists. Innovators, SMEs, citizens, user groups and other smaller players would not be considered by the Executive in my experience.


20. This area of IT is possibly the one most influenced by political views, and the views of MI5 and other State services. However, it is heartening that ID Cards appear to be going.

Private companies are as dangerous as the State here. Apple is keen to know all about you as this Traitorware blog describes


21. The UK is very poor in relation to other countries. For example, in Denmark there has been a collaborative procurement company 55 ; 45% shareholdings between central and local government

22. People have been saying to UK government "Go and have a look elsewhere" for 20 years. But the public sector do not want to know. It might dilute their power, mean they lost their job or even have to do things differently. These are not outcomes that government servants necessarily wish to look at.

23. UK suppliers making and selling services to Singapore, Finland, US and elsewhere should be allowed to show why, and present to UK Ministers and people. If it works abroad, why not here?

The economist Dambisa Moyo said recently about aid to Africa -

"Many of them just asked for advice because they genuinely want to see a turnaround. I think there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind, whether you love or hate aid, that there’s clearly something wrong. There’s clearly a problem with a system that has not delivered economic growth and reduced poverty for 50 years. Nobody can tell me that things are working swimmingly in Africa. they ain’t."

24. IT suppliers to the UK government run the same risks. There’s clearly a problem with a IT infrastructure, culture and operations that have not really worked well for the last 30 years, and the system needs radical change. Otherwise in 2050 we will see the same questions from your Committee.

25. The PASC IT inquiry seems to want to enable the British people and SMEs change the "business of government". SMEs, citizens and users certainly want to help. UK Government IT is a joke compared to the best of the private sector. Yes, elements may be more complicated, but the system is broken.

January 2011