The Labour Party has unleashed a scathing attack on the coalition's government IT strategy as it sets out what it would do if it came to power.
In documents published today as general election campaigning gets under way, Labour pointed out a number of high-profile IT contracts which have failed under the coalition and vowed to improve IT procurement in the public sector if it were to be elected.
"Despite their claims, the coalition's attitude to digital government has not lived up to the standards which the public should rightly expect," the party said. "The Government Digital Service is an experienced and talented group who have helped prove that government can embrace new digital technologies. Unfortunately, ministers have too often focused this group on simple headline-grabbing initiatives that only help the few rather than tackling the more complex and valuable challenges that make government work better for everyone."
The party pointed to a Ministry of Justice IT contract which it claims wasted taxypayers' cash.
"[The coalition] recently wasted £56.3m on the development of an in-house system for back-office HR and payroll functions with Steria, only to subsequently learn that the Cabinet Office was already developing its own version with the same supplier," it said.
It added that the Department for Work and Pensions is likely to write off £663m of IT costs after failures with its My Benefits Online project.
"We will also generate savings for the taxpayer by rooting out unnecessary duplication and waste by working in partnership across the public sector to deliver a joined-up digital agenda," Labour said.
A Labour government would "learn from international best practice on IT and government" and "drive efficiencies" in procurement, it claimed. On top of that, it says if it came to power, it would use the expiry of major government IT contracts to break up services into "components that form part of a flexible and enabling architecture which saves money and provides opportunities for SMBs".
Breaking IT supplier monopolies has been a high priority for the Cabinet Office in this parliament. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude enforced measures which cap deals at £100m in a bid to level the playing field for smaller firms which he claims can offer the government and taxpayer better value.
SMB-friendly frameworks such as G-Cloud were set up during this parliament, and despite coming under fire at times from suppliers, to date, about half of sales by value through it have gone to smaller suppliers.
Lucy Powell, Labour's shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said:
"Despite spending on the GDS ballooning, Francis Maude has failed to deliver on his promise of 25 exemplar services being live by this March. His plans for digital inclusion miss out those most hard to reach and his focus on transactional services means that he has failed to harness the full potential of digital public services in the hands of the public."
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