UK Government hints at offshoring IT to India

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has hinted that his Government might be prepared to hand important public sector computing contracts to Indian suppliers.

The comments were made yesterday during a visit to Indian outsourcing firm Infosys Technologies, as part of a coalition government trade delegation to the subcontinent.

According to a report on IT news site Public Technology, Cameron told his hosts:

"We are reviewing contracts, we are looking at what we pay for the services we have received. It is like any other business. In terms of being open to outsourcing... you will find Britain one of the most open and progressive countries."

Perhaps the comments were another example of the PM's trademark Etonian 'charm' - but if they do signal a serious move towards wider offshoring of government IT, it will put the coalition on a direct collision course with public sector unions over UK jobs.

Speaking in February on the establishment of a parliamentary committee to investigate offshoring, Peter Skyte of the trade union Unite told IT mag Computing: "Government procurement needs to take the situation we are in into account. Many UK-based, skilled IT workers have already lost their jobs and we expect there is more to come.

"It is important that there are safeguards for UK workers and that jobs are created onshore, not offshore."

Putting public sector data processing in the hands of foreign suppliers has also sparked concerns over data security. In April this year, Britain's previous Labour government came under fire after a Sunday Times investigation revealed that patient records from seven London NHS trusts had been sent for processing in India - in direct contradiction of an earlier government promise not to do so.

In January 2007, former health minister Caroline Flint told parliament that a government plan to digitise patient records would "expressly preclude the transfer of patient information outside the United Kingdom".