Tories Will Halt IT Procurement And Try To Stop Contracts Over £100m

Government IT procurement will stall after this year's general election if the Conservative Party wins power. Conservatives have pledged to put an immediate halt to all IT procurement and to try to make it harder to award contracts over £100 million.

The Conservatives have published a 'technology manifesto' outlining their plans for government in areas such as public access to data and telecoms infrastructure, but its plans for changing the multi-billion pound market in public sector IT contracts could have a major effect on major providers.

The opposition party said that IT procurement was bloated and restricted to a few major companies. It said that too often the current Government had ordered bespoke systems from large companies where it should have sought the view of smaller firms and checked to see what existing technologies might be capable of doing the job.

"Under Labour, just nine IT companies received 60% of public sector IT spending," said its manifesto, which also pledges to "reform the design and procurement process for government IT."

"The design process should first explore simple, low cost solutions and examine existing solutions before contemplating bespoke commissioning," it said.

"By opening up IT procurement to SMEs, we can increase competition for contracts and so drive down costs, and we can help to create new jobs and support high tech British enterprise," said the manifesto.

The first step the Conservatives will take will be to stop new spending on IT.

"To ensure that value for money is delivered, a Conservative government will impose an immediate moratorium on planned IT procurement projects in order to evaluate upcoming projects and ensure that small businesses and open source IT providers are not locked out of the bidding process," it said.

The Conservatives also said that in Government they will make it harder to award contracts of a value of more than £100m.

"A Conservative government will also introduce a presumption against government IT contracts worth over £100 million," said the document. "In addition, we will publish online all IT tender documents and IT procurement contracts to enable the public to root out wasteful spending and to help more small businesses bid for government contracts."

The proposals also include plans to make more Government data accessible to the public in a move that the party claimed would help reduce costs as well as increase democratic accountability.

"We will legislate to enforce the freedom of government data. We will create a powerful new Right to Government Data, enabling the public to request – and receive – government datasets. This will ensure that the most important government datasets are released," it said.

"Setting government data free will make it easier for the public to hold ministers to account for the performance of public services and wasteful spending, and exert downward pressure on wasteful spending and unjustified wage inflation amongst public sector fat cats," said the document.

The Conservatives said that they would ensure that superfast broadband access was extended across "most" of the country. Though it claimed that this was 50 times current Government plans, the Government has its own superfast broadband proposals.

The Government is currently working on a scheme to ensure that broadband at 2MB per second (mbps) reaches all of the UK by 2012. But it also has plans to extend superfast broadband to 90% of the country by 2017.

That plan has been criticised by the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee of MPs as a poor use of money. It has said that money should not be raised through a 50p per month phone line levy and that public resources would be better spent on existing digital inclusion projects than on a network for which there is no proof of demand.

"Our ambition is to ensure that the next generation of Googles, Microsofts and Facebooks are British companies," said the shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt. "To achieve this we need to ensure we have a superfast broadband structure that gives the UK a competitive advantage over other countries."

"For too long we have endured a closed shop government - which keeps information from the public, fails to stimulate innovative industries and wastes money on bloated, unnecessary and gold plated IT projects," said shadow cabinet office minister Francis Maude. "Our proposals will make the UK the most technology friendly Government in the world, introducing a right to government data, extending superfast broadband and creating a much more level playing field for SMEs."