By Tony Collins
John Suffolk, the government’s former chief information officer, says warnings that publishing Universal Credit reports will have a chilling effect are “poppycock”.
His comments were prompted by the Department for Work and Pensions’ appeals against a ruling by the first-tier information tribunal that 4 reports on the Universal Credit programme be published.
The DWP has failed in every legal move it has made to stop the reports being published but is continuing its attempts although costs for taxpayers are increasing.
The DWP and its external lawyers argue that publishing the 4 reports would have a chilling effect by inhibiting the candour and boldness of civil servants who contribute to such reports.
But Suffolk says the claims of a chilling effect are “poppycock”. Suffolk was responding to a Campaign4Change blog “DWP tries again to stop disclosure of Universal Credit reports“. He says:
“As you know I am a great fan of publishing all of the project reports. I note all of the comments on the “chilling effect” but this is poppycock.
“There is no chilling effect and if there was it would be countered by the extra scrutiny change programmes would receive by increased transparency. We should publish everything on projects and programmes.
“Transparency is a good thing. Government does complex work and more eyes on the problem would be a help not a hindrance, accepting we all need to know ‘who is the cook and who is the food critic’.
Suffolk was government CIO for nearly 5 years between 2006 and 2011 where he helped to steer an annual IT budget of billions of pounds. He is now Head of Cyber Security/SVP at Huawei Technologies
His comments in full:
“It is such a shame that we have reached this position. Part of the Conservative Party (not the coalition) election thrust was on openness, transparency etc.
“Indeed some work has been done on this such as publishing the finance data, a summary report on major projects, but we appear to have gone backwards on no longer publishing an annual report for ICT spend, no longer publishing benchmark data – a prime driver that can reduce costs. According to the NAO some of what is published in terms of progress, is a little, how can I phrase this suspect.
“The realism is the only time a government can introduce transparency is at the beginning of a political cycle, this should have been executed at the beginning of the coalition as it becomes almost impossible to become transparent at the beginning of a new election cycle.
“A few words about UC. Before I left Government we reviewed the outline of UC as part of Francis Maude’s project control. I have to say the Ministers were excellent.
“They fully understood the policy objectives, fully understood the likely benefits and costs, understood the challenges but rightly deferred to officials on execution – how do we get from A to B.
“The Officials were far less impressive… Since then the ICT Team and Executive at DWP have gone through substantial change, the Civil Service have gone through a period of “transition” or “turmoil”; suppliers have gone through similar experiences and here we are trying to undertake one of the largest changes to the benefits system.
“We should not be surprised if there are a few wrinkles, nor should we be surprised if things move around a bit (what doesn’t – big or small) but what we should be surprised at is that Cabinet Office doesn’t appear to be backing the programme.
“I read with some mild amusement that GDS had taken their toys home and withdrew troops from “supporting” the programme.
“Excuse me, but isn’t this a flagship Programme? Won’t this programme save billions of pounds? Won’t this programme begin to change the something-for-nothing culture to nothing-for- nothing culture (unless there are real health reasons etc)?
“So we should have robbed all of the most talented resources of less priority programmes to support this. We didn’t. We went and sulked in the corner because they wouldn’t accept our ideas – instead we go and play around with websites and mess with tactical online services rather than focussing on the things that matter.
“You could also see this manifested in the major projects report where they singled out UC in a special category. Boys boys your job is to work together not squabble like little children.
“Get the best resources on UC, accept it is complex and dates will move around, take steady small steps and prove the programme and then get your shoulders behind it to make the implementation a success.
“Without doubt the Government have made many substantial improvements but when it comes to getting big changed implemented there is a long way to go.”
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