WRITTEN ON December 6th, 2009 BY William Heath AND STORED IN Government Procurement, Political engagement, Save Time and Money, Uncategorized

From The Times

Francis Maude, the shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, has written to Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, calling for a moratorium on the £100bn of government IT contracts in the pipeline.

This raises a load of questions. What’s the list of contracts? Is it complete and definitive?

One can imagine suppliers are lobbying hard to to rush through signing contracts for all they’re worth, before the party’s over. But what is the sense of urgency of Labour Ministers? Do they perceive a “moral duty” to press on with ContactPoint, CfH or the ID Scheme? Or is there a deliberate “scorched earth” policy to make life as difficult as possible for their likely successors, to maximise their political discomfort?

How are the officials behaving, I wonder. Would they press on with their pet schemes, or merely implement what remains of the will of the present administration? Clearly signing major contracts ties the hands of the likely new administration, unless there are break clauses in the event of an election (and I’ve never heard of such). Clearly, too, it’s likely to embed the politically controversial tendency towards a centraslised, authoritarian database state. So an incoming Tory administration could truthfully say “our hands are tied”.

The authoritarian control phreaks will have won, and PA et al will have walked off with our cash. Both would be irreversible.

UPDATE: As I was writing that the Beeb carries a story saying they reckon Labour will axe CfH

Chancellor Alistair Darling said he would be halting parts of the scheme in Wednesday’s pre-Budget Report as it was “not essential to the frontline……You know, for example, the NHS had a quite expensive IT system that you know, frankly, isn’t essential to the frontline…It’s something that I think we don’t need to go ahead with just now.”

One Response to “What of long-term IT contracts still being signed under Labour administration?”

pubstrat wrote on December 9th, 2009 8:10 pm :

It’s a good question, but not as clear cut as it first looks.
In the UK system of government, the government stays being the government until it stops being the government, and it is a fundamental tenet of the civil service that it serves ‘the government of the day’. Its current job is to keep implementing the policy of the Labour government. At some point next year, it is possible that there will be a Conservative government, and from that day on it will be the job of the civil service to serve that government with equal assiduity.
So there are two sets of questions. The first is constitutional:
Do we want to change the assumption and invite the cabinet office to have an eye on opposition as well as government opinion? If so, from when? Is that always in the last 3/6/12 months of a parliament, or only when the governing party is behind in the opinion polls? Does opposition opinion become a veto at some point, and if so, when? Or is there some category of decisions which simply should not be made in the closing stages of a parliament, and if so which ones? Is this about contractual decisions, or should new legislation which has an impact beyond a likely election date be similarly limited? If not, would a parliamentary vote approving the making of a contract change anything?
The second set is more practical. Can no project expected to take more than three years be started later than the second year of a parliament? Should projects expected take more than about four years be banned altogether?
Guidance at the last election – and there is no reason to suppose that the next one will be different – does set limits on new commitments during the election period itself – http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/cabinetoffice/propriety_and_ethics/assets/electguide.pdf page 18. So the absolute principle I started with is already constrained to a certain extent. That makes it reasonable to ask whether the beginning of a campaign is a sufficient period. My point, finally arrived at, is that it is not really a question of contract arrangements, it’s a rather deeper and broader one than that.