Page last updated at 11:41 GMT, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Tories attack leaked five-year IT plan as 'unambitious'

Man uses computer
Labour and the Tories both believe computing costs can be slashed

A leaked document setting out the government's IT strategy for the next five years is "complacent" and lacks ambition, the Conservatives say.

The paper details plans to save billions through greater use of social media and innovations such as an online "apps store" for civil servants.

It also predicts that by 2020 new software will allow computers to do tasks currently carried out by humans.

The government said it did not comment on leaked documents.

The Conservatives, who obtained the document, have set up a website, makeitbetter.org.uk, where it is published in full, with a facility for people to comment on it.

The document, entitled Government ICT Strategy: New World, New Challenges, sets out how the government plans to harness computer technology to save cash and improve public services up to 2015.

'Cloud infrastructure'

It includes plans for an online government applications store - to enable civil servants to share and re-use computer programmes.

At the moment, there are more than 10,000 unique applications - computer programmes designed to carry out specific tasks - being used by public sector organisations, the report says.

We will shortly be publishing a new public sector ICT strategy that, as called for by the Operational Efficiency Programme, will deliver savings of more than £3bn a year
Cabinet Office

The new applications store will be launched early next year. The report says it will save an estimated £500m a year by 2020.

But the bulk of the planned savings - £1.6bn - will come from the development of a government "cloud infrastructure" - a way of pooling computer systems which is meant to cut costs and energy consumption.

The government plans to launch a prototype of what it calls the "G cloud" early next year, with a standard model to be introduced by the end of 2010.

The document also outlines plans to develop 10 to 12 strategic data centres, which it says will bring together "existing public data centres into highly secure and resilient facilities", which it claims will save £300m a year and cut power consumption by 75%.

'Systemic failures'

It also proposes a common desktop strategy, which will involve 80% of government PCs using a shared utility service by 2015.

Looking further ahead, the report predicts the use of semantic technologies, which potentially allow computers to handle tasks that currently require human intervention.

Rory Cellan-Jones
Politicians in opposition and in government are latching onto the idea of using the web to engage with the wider public
Rory Cellan-Jones
BBC's technology correspondent

It also highlights the development of human/computer interaction in hospitals - removing the need to use a keyboard or pointing device.

Government sources told the Financial Times the leaked document was an "early draft" which had not been signed off by ministers.

Ministers are expected to publish details of their IT strategy ahead of next week's pre-Budget report.

The Cabinet Office said it did not comment on leaked documents, but a spokesman said: "As part of our commitment to making government more efficient and effective we're looking at ways of reducing our ICT spend without affecting the excellent digital services we now offer.

"We will shortly be publishing a new public sector ICT strategy that, as called for by the Operational Efficiency Programme, will deliver savings of more than £3bn a year."

The Conservatives say the government plans lack ambition, compared with their own plans to break up large IT projects into smaller components and encourage more use of "open source" software, ending the government's reliance on a handful of suppliers.

On the makeitbetter site, the party claims the government has spent £100bn on IT since 1997, but it quotes a recent study which says 70% of recent projects have failed.

It says the report fails in its aim of showing how the government can get to grips with the "systemic failures in public sector IT procurement over the past decade," such as the "calamitous" NHS database.

It adds: "Not only is it possible to develop a more ambitious, cost-effective and transformative vision for government IT, but we believe that it's also possible to pursue a completely different approach to making policy.

"Rather than the traditional closed approach to policy making that this report typifies, we want to throw open the process and allow people to contribute their ideas on how policy should be designed.

"In the post-bureaucratic age, we believe that crowdsourcing and collaborative design can help us to make better policies - and we think this approach should begin now."



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