Open Source, UK Gov. & Institutional Profligacy

I got a tad annoyed after reading this article by an old journalist friend and colleague Maxwell Cooter. In the story the new CIO of HMRC is reported as saying that there is basically institutional profligacy within the Cabinet Office:

Phil Pavitt, recently-appointed CIO for HM Revenue and Customs, has revealed that attempts to cut government budget is positively discouraged. In a telling anecdote, he says “In my first few weeks of the job I was visited by leading members of the Cabinet Office. In that conversation with me they mentioned I am in the top purchasing club… That means you have tremendous influence on buying power, buying ideas and management and so on.”I said ‘If I reduce costs by 50 per cent what happens?’, ‘Well, you leave the club,’ I was told.”

As you will probably know, I have a vested interest in seeing the Cabinet Office’s Open Source, Open Standards and Re-Use Action Plan[pdf] implemented in full and as quickly as possible. The comment above however, coming from deep within the halls of power, is a clear indication that there seems to be little appetite to drive this Action Plan into, ahem, action. I used the excellent Write to Them service to write to my MP Jeremy Hunt

Dear Jeremy Hunt,

I run an independent consulting company specialising in an area of software technology called Open Source.

We help organisations of all sizes get best-value by using technologies that are developed for the benefit of the user rather than of the producer.

We have been following the Cabinet Office’s recent Action Plan called “Open Source, Open Standards Re-Use” with some interest and have commented positively on the quality of the document but found there to be little in the way of energy to implement or monitor it’s adoption.

Today, I read an article by a journalist whom I have known for many years which seems to corroborate our opinion that there is little motivation for the status quo to change.

The link to the article is here:

http://blogs.techworld.com/the-blue-screen/2010/02/letting-the-cat-out-of-the-bag/index.htm

“Phil Pavitt, recently-appointed CIO for HM Revenue and Customs, has revealed that attempts to cut government budget is positively discouraged. In a telling anecdote, he says “In my first few weeks ofthe job I was visited by leading members of the Cabinet Office. In that conversation with me they mentioned I am in the top purchasing club… That means you have tremendous influence on buying power, buying ideas and management and so on.”I said ‘If I reduce costs by 50 per cent what happens?’, ‘Well, you leave the club,’ I was told.”

As I understand it, these are civil servants and as such are non-political.

Could you please comment on how a Conservative Government would try to change this apparently appalling attitude towards public expenditure.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Lord


The Open Learning Centre
Web: www.theopenlearningcentre.com

A couple of days ago I got an initial reply and, although the response itself isn’t exactly exuberant, Jeremy does indicate one thing I have heard something about before; the Tories policy of splitting massive IT projects into much smaller component parts by using Open Standards. This shows to me they have a decent understanding of the power of Open Standards to break the stranglehold a few monopolies currently have, although of course the proof will be in the delivery… He has also written to the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office to get the Government’s response to my enquiry too.

Here’s his reply in full.

Dear Alan,

Thank you for your email in which you kindly included your own experiences of the Cabinet Offices Action Plan called “Open Source, Open Standards Re-Use”.

Whilst I was pleased to hear you are complimentary about the quality of the document, I was sorry to learn that there seems little in the way of follow-up.

I was also most concerned to read the contents of the article by Maxwell Cooter.

Having spoken to the appropriate Shadow Cabinet Member as you requested, they have assured me that the Conservatives will create a level playing field for open source software by introducing open standards across government that enable large ICT projects to be split into smaller modular components. This will cut licensing costs, reduce risk and enable more small companies to bid for government ICT contracts.

I hope this is helpful and in order to get the Government’s response to the issues you have raised, I have also written to the Rt Hon Angela Smith MP, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office seeking her comments.

As soon as I have received the Minister’s reply, I will of course let you know straight away.

Thank you once again for bringing this important matter to my attention and if I can be of any further assistance in the meantime, please do let me know.

Best wishes

Jeremy

Jeremy Hunt
Member of Parliament
South West Surrey

If you want your MP (or future MP), whatever party they represent, to at least be aware of issues that concern you, please write to them. It is an easy way to voice your opinion. I have found MPs and MEPs to be generally quick to reply, to have understood the points I made and to follow up on issues when they said they would.

PS: Once I have the Minister’s reply I will of course let you know straight away too.
PPS: Can I please be recorded as the first to come up with the phrase “Institutional Profligacy” :-)

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6 Comments

  • Dan Fish says:

    The civil service in all departments seems to be all about empire building. I suspect this has always been the case and will continue to do so, even though as a nation, at this time of economic doom, we desperately need to mitigate costs within the public sectors and strip out unnecessary ‘back room’ staff and ill advised/executed IT projects etc Connecting for Health.

    The Open Source, Open Standards and Re-Use Action Plan is welcomed but unlikely to be enforced. Only if Open Source becames the prefered solution rather than ‘must be considered’, will OSS truly have a chance to make a difference. Until then “Institutional Profligacy” (copyright Alan Lord) and the marketing might of the proprietary software vendors, OSS is going to struggle in HMG and the public sectors.

  • Brett says:

    That’s a really interesting service. I’d hope that Canada would adopt a similar system so I could write to my MP. Oh way, our government is currently prorogued for the second time…

    I appreciate your efforts Alan. Keep it up.

  • [...] I do to a man driving up and down the M6 trailing a giant billboard. Nor would I like to see the Institutional Profligacy of some politicians continue with the need for budget cuts and a decrease in [...]

  • Steve South says:

    I think the autohr got it partly wong, but it is even worse. First it wasn’t the Cabinet Office, Phil Pavitt/HMRC corrected tat error. It was OGC? These arethe peoplke who set procurement policy and these ae the people who tell procurement experts what to do. OGC should be closeddown. Any supplir who tries to do work with Government come across the idiots in OGC. Ask the conservatives if they will close OGC

    Steve

  • [...] Open Source, UK Gov. & Institutional Profligacy As you will probably know, I have a vested interest in seeing the Cabinet Office’s Open Source, Open Standards and Re-Use Action Plan[pdf] implemented in full and as quickly as possible. The comment above however, coming from deep within the halls of power, is a clear indication that there seems to be little appetite to drive this Action Plan into, ahem, action. [...]

  • [...] how it seemed that saving money was not being encouraged by our civil servants. I discussed it in this blog post: Phil Pavitt, recently-appointed CIO for HM Revenue and Customs, has revealed that attempts to cut [...]

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