Commons connectivity criticised

'The IT here really sucks. I go to schools in my constituency who have sorted this out better,' says one MP

A Conservative MP has hit out at the House of Commons IT infrastructure, saying there are schools in his constituency with more advanced IT than the nation's seat of government.

Conservative MP Grant Shapps said, in part, the problem is due to restrictive levels of red tape and policy but also because too few MPs demand anything more than the most basic levels of connectivity.

He said: "The IT here really sucks. I go to schools in my constituency who have sorted this out better."

Shapps said the lack of interest in technology among many MPs, embodied by admitted technophobe prime minister Tony Blair, means there are few strong voices to push for modernisation and change. "The prime minister has frighteningly little grasp of technology," he said.

Shapps said he feels forced to shun the parliamentary network altogether, favouring a laptop with a 3G card or even public Wi-Fi access, all of which he must arrange himself. He added that he knows of at least 10 other members of parliament who feel they have been forced to take matters into their own hands.

His hand was forced by a refusal to install ADSL or Wi-Fi in Westminster and laggard policy regarding the roll-out of new technology, he told ZDNet UK sister site silicon.com.

Although putting cable in the Palace of Westminster may sound problematic, Shapps said even the lobby area of the relatively new building at Portcullis House is remarkably behind the times.

He said for an airy atrium with coffee shops and general seating areas in which many staff work, it's unthinkable that it doesn't have Wi-Fi.

Shapps said: "This looks like it should be a Wi-Fi haven but it [doesn't]," adding that not only does it not have Wi-Fi, "it doesn't even have power points to plug in a laptop."

He said: "It's easier to go work in Starbucks than it is to work here," though he admitted that gives rise to other IT issues such as effective back-up and security.

But Shapps doesn't buy the excuse that security concerns should stall a Wi-Fi rollout which would enable MPs to more effectively communicate with one another and with their constituents.

He said: "There's really not that much of an excuse. There's a lot of fudging the issue going on."

In January this year, a report by the House of Commons Administration Committee called for secure wireless Internet access to be installed in the Palace.

But Shapps says any progress on the back of this recommendation is proving slow to materialise. "They're still very much talking about thinking about doing it," he said.

Consideration, rather than implementation, is also very much the order of the day regarding ADSL connections, he added, though he is hopeful of improvement as more "IT savvy" MPs start walking the corridors of power.

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