IT may need a more centralist approach - Ian Watmore

Ian Watmore, the former government CIO and now Chief Operating Officer for the Efficiency and Reform Group, Cabinet Office, told MPs that there are limits to a Big Society transfer of power from Whitehall to localities.His comments to the Public...

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Ian Watmore, the former government CIO and now Chief Operating Officer for the Efficiency and Reform Group, Cabinet Office, told MPs that there are limits to a Big Society transfer of power from Whitehall to localities.

His comments to the Public Administration Select Committee were published by the Committee last week, as part of a transcript of its meeting on 1 February 2011 on Good Governance and Civil Service Reform.    
 
Conservative MP Robert Halfon asked Watmore: "What limits are there to the Big Society or to how power could be transferred from Whitehall to the grass roots, to communities and neighbourhoods?" 

Watmore replied: "I think my Minister, Francis Maude, would say that what he would like to see happening, as well as the transfer to the Big Society and localism, is a degree of centralisation of some of the core business aspects of government. 

"I think we may have discussed in the previous session the ideas of bringing more procurement to the centre to get bigger value for the taxpayer pound that is spent. 

"There are two things going on in parallel here: there is a lot of policy devolution to the local front line, through the ways I have just described and that were illustrated by my colleagues here, but there is a degree of getting a grip of some of the business aspects of government, on property, procurement, IT and those sorts of things, which requires a more centralist approach. 

"He refers to that as his tight-loose framework, and I think that is probably the best description of what’s going on at the moment."

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My comment:

Few will argue with Watmore's suggestion that it's difficult to make large savings without a more centralist approach to IT and procurement. But there's a good and a bad approach to being centralist. 

The Department of Health's centralist approach on IT is unashamedly complex and costly. It spends hundreds of millions centrally on IT for little in return. In contrast trusts like St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals rightly win awards for IT-related innovations that cost little and deliver much. 

How can unnecessary government data centres be consolidated, business processes simplified, procurement standardised and genuine innovation allowed to flourish without a centralist approach - and indeed a mandating approach? 

But please spare taxpayers the Department of Health's version of a centralist approach to IT. 

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