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Tony Collins is an investigative and campaigning journalist and former Executive Editor at Computer Weekly. With his friend and colleague David Bicknell he wrote "Crash", which found common factors in the world's largest public and private sector IT-related failures. He wrote "Open Verdict", a book on the strange deaths of defence scientists. He writes, and gives talks, on the tensions and disputes between suppliers and users.

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Cabinet Office managers ban talks on Government IT

An outspoken reformer at the Cabinet Office has to withdraw from talk to MPs and peers

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Senior officials in the Cabinet Office have banned their colleagues from talking publicly about Government IT, which will stop reformers arguing the need for radical change.

In recent weeks several officials in the Cabinet Office have spoken in public on the massive inefficiencies within Government administration. They have set out plans for reducing or cutting out widespread duplication of business processes and IT.

Now senior management at the Efficiency and Reform Group within the Cabinet Office has ordered its officials to stop speaking in public about matters relating to Government IT.

Andrew Tait from the Cabinet Office withdrew suddenly from a talk he was due to give last night to the Parliamentary IT Committee Pitcom. The committee is is chaired by a former Cabinet Office minister Alun Michael, who was Deputy Home Secretary. Pitcom members include MPs, peers and IT industry specialists. 
Tait is Deputy Director Data Centre Strategy, G-Cloud and Apps Store at the Office of the Government CIO, Cabinet Office. 

In an email to Pitcom members on 2 November, the day before Tait was due to talk, Professor Jim Norton, a member of the committee, said: 

“I learnt this afternoon that the Cabinet Office are not allowing any of their staff to speak on topics related to Government IT, pending the publication of an revised IT strategy in several months time. This means that Andrew Tait has been obliged to withdraw from speaking to us tomorrow evening. 

“Many colleagues will be coming to Westminster tomorrow anyway for the Pitcom Programme Committee and Council meetings as well as many having already made travel arrangements to attend the Pitcom meeting itself. 

"So, with the agreement of our Pitcom chairman Rt. Hon. Alun Michael MP, I will step into the breach and speak instead on the topic: "Ground Rules for successful use of IT to address public service cost reduction."

One irony of the ban is that the Cabinet Office is leading a Coalition campaign to force more openness on Whitehall. But it’s thought that the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude was unaware of the ban at the time it was imposed.

Last week the Cabinet Office, on behalf of Maude, issued a press release that was headlined: “Ministers forge ahead with transparency agenda”.

The reason for ban, as given internally to officials within the Cabinet Office, is that a new IT strategy is being written; until it’s published nothing should be said publicly which could reflect Labour’s IT strategy rather than the Coalition’s.

But the new IT strategy could be at least four months away from being published, or possibly much longer. 

It’s thought that the Efficiency and Reform Group, in imposing the ban, is keen to protect ministers from embarrassment should the Cabinet Office decide against the large-scale simplification of the machinery of government.


Any idea how projects we have and how much they'll cost? - Cabinet Office talk by David Pitchford 

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