Conservatives demand greater use of open source

Shadow chancellor George Osborne has called for an overhaul of the government’s approach to open source, arguing that greater use in the public sector could save £600m a year.

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Shadow chancellor George Osborne has called for an overhaul of the government’s approach to open source, arguing that greater use in the public sector could save £600m a year.

In a speech to the Royal Society of Arts, Osborne said: “The government’s entire approach needs to be overhauled. Taking into account the experience of companies and public sector bodies, it is estimated that the government could save at least 5% of its annual IT bill if more open source software was used as part of a more effective procurement strategy. That adds up to over £600m a year.”

The Conservative frontbencher pointed to examples of open source products being used in the public sector internationally. “In Japan, the government is moving its entire payroll system over to an open source platform. The switch is expected to cut operating costs by half,” he said.

“The Spanish region of Extremadura migrated 70,000 desktops and 400 servers in its schools to open source software. It has calculated that this decision has already saved them over £10m.”

Osborne said 10 cities in the Netherlands were now evaluating open source products. “Here in the UK, some public bodies have already shown what can be achieved,” he said.

“What it is about is better and more effective government. The problem is that the cultural change has not taken place in government. There isn’t a level playing field for open source software.”

Osborne warned that too many companies had been “frozen out of government IT contracts”, stifling competition and driving up costs. “Not a single open source company is included in Catalyst, the government’s list of approved IT suppliers,” he said.

“All too often, a government IT system is incompatible with other types of software, which stifles competition and hampers innovation. Looking at the litany of IT projects that have collapsed or spiralled over budget, it’s clear too that this has meant billions of pounds wasted and public service reform being hampered.”

Osborne concluded: “Let’s start being open source right now.”

Parliamentary interest in open source software and standards is increasing, with 130 MPs signing an Early Day Motion that criticises the Department for Education and Skills and education IT agency Becta for “effectively denying schools the option of benefiting from both free and open source software” by using “outdated purchasing frameworks”.

But Osborne is not among the signatories to the motion sponsored by Liberal Democrat MP and Commons public accounts committee member John Pugh.

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