By Tony Collins
We congratulate the Public Administration Committee for following up its excellent Government and IT – “A recipe for rip-offs: time for a new approach” which was published in July 2011.
Too often MPs on Parliamentary committees, including those on the Public Accounts Committee, issue reports then forget about them.
Today’s report of the Public Administration Committee is disappointing though. It’s a fog of well-meant words. It comments in detail on the government’s response to the “recipe for rip-offs” report and for the most part uses civil service language. Last year’s report had specific, hard-hitting messages. Today’s is like a marshmallow sandwich: nothing much to bite on.
There is not even a mention of the need to publish progress reports on the government’s biggest IT-related projects.
If Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, forced the civil service to publish these “Gateway” review reports, it would make departments accountable in a unprecedented way for the success or otherwise of projects and programmes while the schemes are running.
As it is, the government is being let off the hook in not publishing Gateway reports on Universal Credit or HM Revenue and Customs’ Real-Time Information programmes. These are two of the largest and riskiest of coalition schemes. Their monthly or quarterly progress, or lack of, will continue to go unreported.
Who cares? Certainly not the Public Administration Committee.
The Committee rightly describes the money wasted on IT in govermment as “obscene”. But its cloud of vague messages will do little more than indulge some civil servants who enjoy playing intellectually with ambiguous words and phrases to render them more uncertain.
Today’s Public Administration Committee report will change nothing. Fortunately Maude knows what needs to be done, with or without the Committee’s help.