by Martin Veitch

Whatever your politics, state IT requires proper investment

Jan 05, 2010
IT Leadership

Just when it seemed things couldn’t get much worse, veretan Labour politicians are calling for a leadership ballot. Brown can expect one of two outcomes if this goes ahead: an untenable position or, like a football manager in the relegation zone, the dreaded vote of confidence. And all this on the eve of an election and with the Millibands — the Jedward of British politics — as possible replacements. Brown must think, at the drear risk of sounding like Richard Littlejohn, that you couldn’t make it up.

Interestingly, and perhaps uniquely in British elections, IT looks set to have some kind of place on the voting agenda this year with the Tories seemingly determined to take shots at Labour for its record on the NHS and other projects. Usually, cosseted from the cold realties of life and too fond of rhetorical rhubarb, few politicans dare step into the murky waters of the ICT agenda, so it’s good to see this vast area of investment established as an area of political interest.Several lobbying groups are attempting to come up with alternative ways of looking at the way the government invests in IT and I’m delighted to be taking part in one such group, the CTPR Ideal Government IT Strategy.

But with an election looming we all need to be maintain a sense of balance. Certainly, there are some searching questions to be asked about awards and management of IT contracts, pay rates and attitudes to consulting and outsourcing, especially at a time when cloud computing offers the tantalising prospect of a new, more efficient and transparent IT model and when regime change is likely.

But it’s also worth remembering that it was the Labour administration that invested very heavily in IT spending to modernise what were often antiquated systems. A bit like Dr Johnson’s dancing dog, one might argue that it’s not as if Labour did a particularly good job of digitising Whitehall and a sector that accounts for more than half of all UK IT budget. But it’s remarkable, and largely forgotten, that it did it at all.

If we are to change governments then it will be wise to go in with eyes wide open and ask questions about the incoming party. Shadow minister for innovation Adam Afriyie, has spoken about breaking mega-projects into chunks and this is sensible, but we need to hear more beef and less vague stuff about “cutting out waste” or jibes about Labour spending like drunken sailors on shore leave. Whatever the next government wants to do with IT, it will require investment, rather than smoke, mirrors and the usual rhetoric.