The subject of government spending has been much in the news recently, especially now that the Tory adviser Sir Peter Gershon has suggested to the Financial Times that there are several billions of pounds of savings to be made through IT and other sources.
Inevitably there was an immediate backlash with Vince Cable – seemingly ubiquitous yet mysteriously unable to vote on the Digital Enterprise Bill — describing the plans as “salami slicing” and characterised by disregard for cutting out what was good or bad.
However, the key line might be that which came from David Cameron, suggesting that the proposed cuts are of the “death by a thousand” variety:
“It’s not talking about people losing their jobs, it’s talking about not filling vacancies as they arise.”
Labour, meanwhile, after overseeing a huge modernisation programme, supports the G-cloud as a means of saving IT money, a policy which Tories like Adam Afriyie judge to be yet another example of continuing faith in a false god – the government IT mega-project. Also, nerves jangle almost audibly whenever the words ‘cloud’ and ‘security’ are concerned.
So the state of the economy and IT spending as a key component is like the British weather: nobody is much impressed by it but nobody has any clear view of how to improve it. The problem is further complicated by the tricksy nature of technology. Economics is complex enough; add in IT and the level of gobbledygook, guessing games and so on goes through the roof.
Then there is the problem of external perception. An observer might consider that a lot of IT grunt work (and a lot of other types of work) could profitably be offshored. Unfortunately, effects on native employment and considerations of data privacy make this a difficult agenda to push through, especially with the tabloid press watching carefully.
Another school of thought suggests that lowering bureaucracy – consultants, auditors and others paid to watch consultants, auditors and others — could help, but the civil servants will surely react against anything that seems to represent a lowering of the guard in terms of governance.
The cold facts of the matter are that any major change project carries attendant risk. Large savings are surely possible and big switches need to be pulled. But which party, if any, has the nerve to do so?