Whitehall has postponed by a year the publication of Gateway review reports and performance details on all ICT projects above £1m, ComputerworldUK.com has learned.
Although the Government plans to implement many large and risky IT-based schemes, it is, for the time being, following Labour’s strategy of keeping Gateway progress reports on IT projects secret. Gateway reviews comprise a series of independent reports on the progress or otherwise of medium and high-risk IT and building projects.
Last year the Prime Minister David Cameron promised transparency on how well government spends public money. He told civil servants:
“We are shining a light on everything government does, not just the pay and perks or on how money is spent but how well that money is spent
that way people can see the value they are getting for their money and can hold us to account for it.
"I know that some will think this unfair but I am sorry I just don’t agree. We are all the servants of the people of this country. They are the boss. Where else is it that the boss is told: you cannot look at the books.”
The dropped commitments
Below are two commitments from a report issued by the Cabinet Office in October 2010. The two commitments are:
- to require departments to publish Gateway reviews [target date: December 2010].
- to publish performance details on all ICT projects above £1m
Cabinet Office - Structural Reform Plan Monthly Implementation Update - October 2010
Require departments to publish Gateway reports (end Dec 2010)
Publish performance details on all ICT projects above £1m (Sep 2010)
Still not complete
The project review has been completed and will be published in early November in alignment with the publication of all transparency agenda items
Officials coy over plans to publish Gateway reviews
In updates to this Cabinet Office report, both of these commitments cease to be mentioned:
A Cabinet Office spokesman told me this week [8 February 2011] that the references to publishing Gateway reviews were made in a draft Cabinet Office report in June 2010.
But this same undertaking was also been made in the final report of the Cabinet Office in June, as well as in some of its monthly updates, up until and including October 2010.
I asked the spokesman why the two undertakings had been dropped in the Cabinet Office's Structural Reform Plan Monthly Implementation Update dated January 2011. He replied that Gateway reviews will be published by the end of December 2011, in the first "annual report on government funded major projects".
- Why has the commitment to require departments to publish Gateway reports by the end of December 2010 now been apparently dropped?
- Is it feasible to publish all Gateway reviews in a single annual report, given that there are hundreds of Gateway reviews each year, on construction projects as well as risky IT schemes? [If all the Gateway reviews were published in one document it would comprise thousands of pages.]
- Could the new target of December 2011 to publish Gateway reviews be dropped just as easily as the December 2010 target?
The spokesman promised to get back to me. He has - but only to apologise for the delay. He said he would reply to my questions - but hasn't yet.
For the time being it looks as if Whitehall is doing all it can to stop Gateway reviews being published, at least in real-time.
Francis Maude's commitment to publish Gateway reviews
Before the 2010 general election, the Conservatives gave an unequivocal commitment to publish Gateway reviews. Francis Maude said that Gateway review reports would be published in full, and at the time they are completed.
In an interview with Maude before the election I warned him that some senior civil servants would put up a fight against a government attempt to publish Gateway reviews. "Do you really think so?" he asked, innocently.
I replied that the Office of Government Commerce had already been to the High Court to try and stop the publication of early Gateway reviews on the ID Cards scheme. Indeed the OGC has put up lengthy and legalistic objections to any Gateway review being published until it is at least two years old.
Since Francis Maude became the Cabinet Office minister in charge of reform of central departments, he has tried to introduce openness and indeed has confirmed that Gateway reviews will be published. I doubt he realises that the Cabinet Office has quietly filed away his plans for a year.
Why do Gateway Review reports matter?
The Government plans many risky IT scheme that will be assessed by Gateway reviewers. The schemes i
system, which simplifies benefit payments.The system is a collaboration between the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs.
Gateway "zero" reviews will assess the feasibility of Universal Credit and the real-time PAYE information projects. The reviewers will assess whether the government has allocated enough people and money, whether the departments and suppliers can manage such difficult and complicated schemes, and whether the projected benefits and outcomes are realistic.
But secrecy over Gateway reviews will continue to embrace other IT-based projects that are inherently risky, including new systems to support organisations that absorb the work of axed quangos. Shared services initiatives, mutualisation and the bringing together of back-office functions, all of which are dependent on IT, will also be the subject of Gateway reports that will be kept confidential for the time being.
Cabinet Office Structural Reform Plan October 2010 which undertakes to publish Gateway Reviews and performance data. The commitments are not mentioned in Cabinet Office updates.
The DH documents that mock open government.
Wikileaks: a Whitehall excuse for a backlash against openness over Gateway review reports?