To nobody's surprise, IT has been an electoral orphan in this year's campaigning. The subject has less electoral panache than agricultural subsidy reform, and the chances of a Paxman grilling over open source policy are slimmer than those of Kilroy-Silk winning the Eurovision Song Contest. Unsurprisingly, the political parties choose to remain silent on the issue. That is an abdication of responsibility that reflects badly on all.
Governmental guidance in IT is vital, and we need a ministerial position that reflects this. IT is at the heart of the skills necessary in a modern workforce able to adapt to — and lead — the new global economy. IT competency is a personal skill too, one that is increasingly necessary in leading a fulfilling life in the modern world. And with technology intrinsic to efficient government, the country cannot afford to have anything less than strong, impartial and effective decision making of a quality that matches the size of the task ahead.
The Minister for IT would take responsibility for a technology policy suitable for one of the world's leading economies — one, moreover, where the state spends half the money its citizens earn. We are entitled to see our investment properly managed, with the same care for expansion, flexibility, reliability and ROI that any large corporation demands from its IT department. Government investment in IT should favour technologies that increase the social good — ones which are open source, interoperable and accessible. Elements of this are in place, but are often not reflected in actual decisions.
More than that, the state has special responsibilities to safeguard our liberties, freedoms and fair treatment. Effective governmental IT would give politicians and civil servants enormous and unprecedented power, and a Minister is needed to enforce the checks and balances that will give the individual guarantees against abuse and the power to say enough.
A Minister is no good without staff. The money saved from just one major state IT project that didn't get botched would pay many times over for the establishment of a centre of excellence peopled by professionals skilled enough to oversee contracts and enforce policies with proper project management. Too much is currently left in the hands of powerful commercial interests.
We cannot afford to let these issues drift. The cost of ignoring them is high and will only get higher. Whoever inherits the Cabinet Room on Friday must make room at the table for IT: a political investment that will reap very real rewards.