By Tony Collins
“Let’s not waste this great opportunity to make British government IT the most effective and least expensive service per head in Western Europe.”
An open source advocate and critic of the high costs of government IT, Liam Maxwell, is joining the Cabinet Office for 11 months to provide expertise on how civil servants can use innovative new technology to deliver better, cheaper solutions.
His secondment from Eton College where he is ICT head underlines the determination of Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, to continue bringing in strong people to oversee major changes in the way government works.
What remains unclear, however, is how much influence the Cabinet Office will have on autonomous government departments and their permanent secretaries.
Although David Cameron has given his personal backing to the changes being sought by the Cabinet Office, the PM has little or no direct control over what departments do or don’t do.
Simon Dickson at Puffbox points out that Liam Maxwell has said all the right things in the past. Maxwell co-wrote a 2008 paper for the Tories on ‘Open Source, Open Standards: Reforming IT procurement in Government’, and also a 2010 paper Better for Less‘ for the Network for the Post-Bureaucratic Age, which said:
“British Government IT is too expensive. Worse, it has been designed badly and built to last. IT must work together across government and deliver a meaningful return on investment. Government must stop believing it is special and use commodity IT services much more widely.
“As we saw with the Open Source policy, the wish is there. However, the one common thread of successive technology leadership in government is a failure to execute policy.
“There is at last a ministerial team in place that “gets it”. The austerity measures that all have to face should act as a powerful dynamic for change. Let’s not waste this great opportunity to make British government IT the most effective and least expensive service per head in Western Europe.”
In a statement, the Cabinet office said that Maxwell will help to develop ideas for how technology can:
– increase the drive towards open standards and open source software
– help SMEs to enter the government marketplace
– maintain a horizon scan of future technologies and methods
– develop new, more flexible ways of delivery in government
Ian Watmore, the Government’s Chief Operating Officer said: “Liam’s insight and knowledge will make him a valuable source to the team over the coming year. He has a strong track record of delivering success in government ICT and he also brings significant experience of turning the theory into practice.”
Dickson said that Maxwell was a Windsor and Maidenhead councillor who drove the debate a year or so ago on councils switching to Open Document Format, part of OpenOffice.
The Guardian said Maxwell has been an adviser to the Conservative party on government ICT. At the Cabinet Office he will advise the Efficiency and Reform Group and Ian Watmore. He will begin the job in September and is taking a sabbatical from Eton.