Page last updated at 11:11 GMT, Monday, 5 October 2009 12:11 UK

Conservatives hire internet guru

Tom Steinberg

The Tories have enlisted the digital democracy innovator who built the No 10 petitions website to help them make government more open and efficient.

Tom Steinberg is the founder of mySociety, a non-aligned organisation which builds websites designed to help empower people and enhance democracy.

MySociety sites include TheyWorkForYou, which allows people to track their MP's activities and to contact them.

The Tories say they want to use the web to boost government efficiency.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Frances Maude, who announced Mr Steinberg's appointment as an adviser at the Conservative conference in Manchester, said technology must be used more efficiently during a time of austerity.

Civic action

He said that under a Conservative government the aim would be to engage more with the public and open up government data.

In moves the party hopes will improve efficient government the Tories have already said they would use open source software as much as possible and publish on a website details of all government spending over £25,000.

We want to unleash an army of 'armchair auditors' to crawl over the Government's accounts - ordinary members of the public who will be able to see for themselves whether their government is really delivering value for money for them
Francis Maude
Shadow cabinet office minister

They also propose allowing the public to comment on all legislation before it is debated in depth by MPs and peers, and also say they aim to publish online 20 of the most socially useful government datasets online within 12 months of a General Election.

All government contacts over £10,000 being tendered by the government would also be published online, Mr Maude added.

"The UK Government spends more on ICT than any other government and yet the history of UK government ICT projects is littered with budget overruns, delays and functional failures. Huge centralised databases have been created, with a thoroughly casual approach to safeguarding private data.

"We need a fundamental rethink. We need fewer mega-projects; a rigid insistence on open standards and inter-operability; a level playing field for open source software and for smaller suppliers.

"Trust in politics is at an all time low and by making central government transparent and accountable we can start to fix our broken politics. Greater openness and accountability will improve value for money and stop taxpayers' money being wasted.

"We want to unleash an army of 'armchair auditors' to crawl over the Government's accounts - ordinary members of the public who will be able to see for themselves whether their government is really delivering value for money for them."

Advice sharing

He said: "Tom Steinberg has led the way in showing how government can engage with citizens online and catalyse social innovation and civic action. It's great news that he's working with us to develop the vision."

Mr Steinberg said: "A smarter use of IT by government can do more than just deliver services more quickly and efficiently, it can also open up the institutions of state and make our lives as citizens more effective and rewarding. I am looking forward to being part of this change."

The appointment was welcomed at a packed Google fringe meeting on Monday where prospective Conservative candidates were being given tips on how best to use the internet in their campaigning.

But the news was not welcomed by Labour MP Tom Watson on his blog. He said the appointment would create "mistrust between him and supporters of mySociety who are not Conservatives... I think it is incompatible with his position as boss of mySociety".

Mr Steinberg responded by saying it "is me that is doing the advising, not mySociety. And mySociety is strictly non-partisan".

He also said it was an unpaid, part-time advisory position, and said he hoped he would be able to share his advice online for other political parties and the public to see.

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