Opinion: In defence of government IT policy

The Cabinet Office responds to Chris Chant’s article:

By Civil Service World

07 Feb 2013

The way that government does business has changed; it had to. We inherited a system of procurement that was colossally wasteful, inefficient and costly.

IT spending was out of control; now, with all spend over £5m subject to approval, that is no longer the case. Because of strict financial checks enforced by the Efficiency and Reform Group within Cabinet Office, departments had already saved £409m on IT spend at the mid-point of 2012-13.

At the start of this Parliament, we simply did not know how much we spent with strategic suppliers, and departments often had no idea of the total cost of ownership of the solutions they bought. This is no longer the case; and while our data collection is still improving, this information simply hadn’t been gathered before. This development represents a dramatic step change.

We now have a team of skilled negotiators (crown representatives) from the private and public sectors. They act as representatives of the government and interact with key suppliers – ensuring that government acts as a single client, getting the best prices for taxpayers, and ending the era when different parts of government paid different prices for the same products. These negotiators are responsible for the ongoing programme of supplier renegotiations, which was introduced in 2010 and resulted in £800m of savings from strategic suppliers in 2010-11 alone.

We are committed to ensuring that procurements meet strategic needs and provide high-quality solutions for the public sector; are open to a broad range of companies; and are, wherever possible, simpler, easier and cheaper – both for suppliers and the taxpayer.

That is why, for example, as a result of the recent review of our ICT frameworks, we have adopted a new approach so that in future only frameworks that explicitly deliver in line with the ICT strategy, offer a reasonable chance of business to suppliers of all sizes, and provide value and innovation will be agreed.

We are making it easier for companies of all sizes to win government business. We want to see agile, innovative suppliers working with government on shorter, bespoke contracts to create the digital systems that support modern public services.

The G-Cloud is a key part of our drive to make public sector ICT buying more agile in adapting to changing needs, matching solutions to business requirements, reducing waste, and cutting costs.

With G-Cloud, we are building a competitive marketplace populated by suppliers (currently, three quarters are SMEs) which constantly improve the quality and value of their solutions, from niche SME products to large-scale hosting capacity. The G-Cloud programme is not yet 12 months old, but the third iteration of the G-Cloud framework is already in progress, and £6m of business has been done – 61 per cent of it with SMEs.

In recent weeks, the National Audit Office (NAO) recognised that our efforts to cut the cost of government ICT are working. As it acknowledges, our ICT reforms and spending controls saved the taxpayer £316m last year alone. And the NAO has confirmed that we are on course to meet the tough targets which we set ourselves.

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