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Treasury pledges IT efficiency

Stephen Timms says the Government has stopped underfunding IT projects, but must now learn to be efficient with the increased funds
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Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor on

The Treasury has called for IT projects to be run more efficiently, as it makes more money available for central Government-run technology programmes.

The Government has come under fire since the Liberal Democrats exposed last week that it had overspent on IT projects by over £1bn.

Stephen Timms, chief secretary to the Treasury and the former minister for e-commerce, told ZDNet UK on Monday: "It's absolutely essential we manage public spending. We've been able to put right the legacy of underfunding [in IT projects]. There will be an increase in public spending, which will put a new premium on efficiency. It's essential that we improve public services, and manage that to tightly constrained budgets."

In the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, which aims to identify which investments and reforms the Government will make over the next three years, the Government will pledge a three percent efficiency saving in public spending.

But one central Government chief information officer differed with Timms, saying he thought project management was the key to managing budgets. Mark O'Neill, head of IS at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, said: "We want to be smarter at project organisation. Instead of having a number of high-risk projects running at the same time, let's balance high-risk and low-risk projects." He added that high-risk projects were those that deployed new technologies, and low-risk projects were those that used or re-used established technologies and practices.

O'Neill also called for greater interaction between government departments. "In the past we tended to work in silos — I've thought about [my projects]; the Department for Work and Pensions [for example] have thought about theirs. That doesn't work — we need to look across the piece to see what we're doing."

It is when complex IT projects with large budgets overrun that overspend becomes an issue, according to O'Neill. "Government IT projects are very complex and, by nature, very expensive. A small cost overrun in a big project costs a lot of money."

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