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IT Projects

Volume 473: debated on Monday 17 March 2008

5. How much his Department plans to spend on IT projects in the next 12 months; and if he will make a statement. (194067)

Subject to final spending decisions, the Department plans to spend £150.2 million on IT-enabled projects in the 12 months commencing 1 April 2008. That figure covers a wide range of investments in the Department’s internal systems at a cost of £20.5 million, and in major IT-enabled policy initiatives at a cost of £129.7 million.

Despite the Department’s spending millions on its ContactPoint database, the recent report by Deloitte and Touche highlighted the fact that significant data security risks remain with the project. Given that ContactPoint will draw together information on every single child in the country, creating a honeypot effect, what sort of risk does the Minister think is acceptable in relation to those sensitive data?

I would not agree at all with the hon. Gentleman that the report identified significant risks. We commissioned the Deloitte report to look over the ContactPoint project, and it confirmed that ContactPoint has been developed very much with security in mind. The database is very important, and I hope that at some stage the Opposition will look very seriously at why we are setting it up. For example, there has recently been quite a bit of publicity about forced marriage. If we are to be able to identify young people who are at risk, we need to be able to share information between the professionals working with them. I hope that the Opposition will reconsider their position on ContactPoint.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the adoption of open-access IT systems can result in significant savings? Is his Department promoting their use throughout the education sector?

BECTA—the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency—leads for us on that issue, but I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a way of achieving significant savings. As any modern business or any modern constituency MP knows, having properly IT-enabled systems is vital to serving the needs of children in this country and of our constituents.

There is, however, a real and growing concern about IT database overload in the Department. It has three major databases of its own—ContactPoint, Connexions and the national children’s database—and nine other children’s databases feed into ContactPoint. May I take it from the Minister’s response that there is a disagreement between the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government as a result of the recent “Lifting the Burdens” report, which stated that the obsession with multiple databases has diverted attention from the most important task that the Department should have, which is delivering real support for families, or has the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government got it wrong?

As usual, that is a rhetorical rather than a substantive question from the hon. Lady. The point about ContactPoint and the other databases is that they exist to promote the welfare of children and young people in this country. I remind the House that ContactPoint was developed as a result of the Lord Laming inquiry into the Victoria Climbié case. I make no apologies whatever to the House for our continuing to develop that important project, which will enable professionals working with children to identify the other professionals working with them. That is a basic requirement of safeguarding children, and I hope that all parties in the House will support it.