Last year it appeared to be a case of “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” for public sector IT. The £12.4 billion NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT) continues to court controversy. Back in September 2006 Accenture, the largest single contractor, pulled out of its £2bn services contract. Problems between subcontractor iSoft and Accenture were reportedly at the heart of the issue. Management of iSoft was passed to another NPfIT services company, CSC. Losing Accenture from the deal would speed up the software rollout, said CSC at the time.

Doubled costs

Another huge public sector deal to come under scrutiny is Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs contract.
Acquiring Strategic Partners for the Inland Revenue (ASPIRE) was originally a £3.5bn deal that was transferred from EDS to Capgemini back in 2004.

The merger in 2005 of the Inland Revenue with Customs and Excise brought the cost up to £4.5bn. As we go to press, that figure is standing at £8.6bn.

In October 2006 the Home Office said the National ID cards system would cost £5.4bn over 10 years. Others said costing such a project was a leap in the dark and the Tories hit back that it will most likely cost £20bn.

In central government, CIO John Suffolk (who works at the Cabinet Office), published his first annual report in January 2007. By his estimate there are 50,000 IT professionals working in the public sector. In the report Suffolk outlined his three main priorities, customer centric services, shared services and professionalism. His CIO Council represents many, but not all, sections of public sector IT.

The report breaks down the £12.4bn IT expenditure for 2005/06 for those departments represented on the council. Headline figures include: Local Government: £3.3bn; Connecting for Health (CfH): £1.1bn; NHS: £1.1bn; Department for Work and Pensions £1.1bn; HMRC: £989 million; MOD: £936m; Scottish Public sector: £600m; Welsh Public Sector: £165m.

Milestones for the government CIO department include by July 2007, ‘Departmental Comprehensive Spending Review’ and ‘UK Geographical Information Strategy’. Between 2007 and 2011 the CIO plans to “transform support into a shared services network” and “realise financial and service benefits of current and planned investments”.

Cost cutting board

The department has set out a market capacity report and a Strategic Supply Board, which is made up of supplier heads and departmental CIOs. It wants to cut overall IT costs by 20 per cent and government desktop costs by 40 per cent by 2010. Joe Harley, DWP IT director general and CIO, says: “These bold aspirations will require a radical reappraisal of the way we do things in government – and will require on the part of both government and industry transforming the way we operate – and considering new approaches to delivery.”

Added investment in science

In Gordon Brown’s last budget in March, he declared “that in the next four years public investment in science will rise from £5bn this year to £6.3bn by 2010-11 – a 25 per cent cash increase… And the Secretary for Industry has also announced a £100m competition for Britain to lead in high tech innovation – challenging universities and businesses to come together, from medical research to environmental transport, to convert British scientific breakthroughs into British commercial success and jobs.”

New Labour’s drive towards technology-enabled open government is affecting government for the first time in the form of online petitions. Up to February 2007 the 10 Downing Street website attracted 1.8m people to a petition to “scrap the planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy”.

This online petition was followed by one signed by thousands of people calling for Tony Blair to perform a bizarre juggling act while standing on his head.