By Tony Collins
When Jack Straw was Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, he told MPs on the Constitutional Affairs Committee in 2007 that when he abandoned projects there was a fuss at first and soon nobody noticed the project did not exist.
“There is always the option to abandon things. I did that in the Foreign Office with much complaint that the world might end.
“What happened was that we saved a lot of money and no one ever noticed the fact that that scheme did not exist…it is very frustrating that so many people, including the private sector, are taken in by snake oil salesmen from IT contractor who are not necessarily very competent and make a lot of money out of these things. I am pretty intolerant of this.”
Andrew Tyrie (Conservative): Do you suggest that the public sector has been taken in by snake oil salesmen?
Straw: I am saying that we are all taken in. There are plenty of disastrous IT examples in the private sector, BP and Sainsbury being two of them.
Tyrie: I was looking at the public sector.
“I was looking at both. I think we all face problems whereby unless we are total IT experts there is a danger of being taken in by snake oil salesmen… It is a real problem and it is one that is inherent in IT; it is not just a problem for the public sector.
“The difficulty is that in the case of the public sector it is taxpayers’ money, not shareholders’ or customers’ money, and the mistakes are much more visible, but plenty of companies in the private sector have similar problems.”
Should the Cabinet Office Francis Maude say “no” to so many projects? Clearly he’s doing the right thing if Straw’s remarks are anything go by. Would a private sector board that has to watch every penny launch costly IT-related projects that weren’t really needed?