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Tories promise to break up big gov't IT contracts

The Conservative Party's technology manifesto pledges a huge increase in the use of open standards and modular contracts, among other changes
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

A Conservative government will use open standards to break up large government IT contracts into modular components, according to the party's pre-election technology manifesto.

In the manifesto, published on Thursday, the party said the breaking up of large contracts into interoperable modules would reduce risk and let smaller businesses bid for government IT contracts. It also said the use of open standards would "create a level playing field for open-source IT".

"To ensure that high-tech small businesses are not locked out of the IT procurement process, a Conservative government will also introduce a presumption against government IT contracts worth over £100m," the Tories said in the manifesto. "These policies will not only save costs, but will also help to catalyse the growth of the next generation of high-tech British IT companies."

The Tories have been promoting the idea of a decentralised approach to government IT for the last two years. In April 2008, party leader David Cameron blogged that the use of open standards and modular contracts would "follow private-sector best practice".

According to the manifesto, the Tories will to institute a moratorium on all planned government IT procurement projects to make sure small businesses and open-source providers are not shut out of the process.

In addition, the Conservatives intend to publish online "all IT tender documents and IT procurement contracts, to enable the public to root out wasteful spending and to help more small businesses bid for government contracts".

The party also pledged to appoint senior private-sector figures as non-executive members of government department boards, and said it would recommend that any department that significantly used IT to deliver services have at least one non-executive board member with "strong ICT/operational experience".

"We will also create a small IT development team in government — a 'government skunkworks' — that can develop low-cost IT applications in-house and advise on the procurement of large projects," the manifesto authors wrote. The Conservatives intend to give the government CIO powers to implement open standards, open data and other IT policies across government departments.

The manifesto also reiterates the Conservatives' plan to roll out 100Mbps broadband "across most of the population" by "opening up network infrastructure, easing planning rules and boosting competition". Deployment to areas rejected by the private telecoms sector as not being profitable enough could be funded by BBC licence fee money, rather than the 50p-per-month fixed-line levy proposed by Labour.

The Conservatives also promised to roll out smart-grid and smart-meter technology across the UK, to automatically match supply and demand, and allow an increase in renewable power. "We will stimulate the development of new wind and marine power technologies by backing a network of large-scale Marine Energy Parks, and we will urgently accelerate the demonstration of cutting-edge carbon capture and storage technology," the manifesto reads.

Much of the Tory technology manifesto deals with making government more transparent by publishing information online. The party said it would publish, "in an open and standardised format, every item of central government and Quango expenditure over £25,000".

It also promised that, from the start of 2011, it will publish government contracts for goods and services worth over £25,000 in full, "including all performance indicators, break clauses and penalty measures". All EU-funded UK projects worth more than £25,000 would also be detailed online, as would all local council spending above £500.

Also up for online publishing would be the names and salaries of all central government and Quango managers earning more than £150,000 a year, the salaries of the 35,000 most senior civil servants — along with those civil servants' expense claims and lobbyist meeting details — and the names and the full remuneration package of all senior local authority staff earning over £60,000. MPs' expenses would also be regularly published online.

"We will also throw open the doors of Parliament by introducing a technology enabled Public Reading Stage for legislation," the manifesto reads. "This will involve the public in the legislative process and harness the wisdom of crowds to improve legislation and spot potential problems before a bill is implemented."

The Conservatives also promised to create a new 'Right to Government Data' that would give the public the right to request and receive government datasets, and to release datasets covering local crime, education and health performance.

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