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Government ICT Strategy

Volume 572: debated on Wednesday 11 December 2013

We have created a world-class Government web presence. We believe that we saved £500 million in 2012-13 through better IT spend controls, and our digital by default strategy is transforming 25 of the most significant Government transactions by making them easier for users and cheaper for taxpayers.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the new Army recruitment contract with Capita is a shambles. Why did the Government not plan the ICT better so that the new recruitment processes and Ministry of Defence systems worked better?

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the real world we inherited was an absolute shambles in terms of how Government managed IT transactions. His is the party that gave us tax credits and the NHS IT system. What we have done is to put in proper controls and create the conditions in which smaller and leaner organisations can come in and offer better value.

May I commend my hon. Friend the Minister and the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General for the excellent work they have done in ICT? But is it not still ludicrously impossible to get around the silly Treasury rules about recruiting, retaining and rewarding the necessary staff with the necessary expertise to be the single responsible owners with continuous oversight of projects? Does that not show that civil service reform has not gone nearly far enough, and that that justifies a commission on the future of the civil service that only Parliament can provide?

I recognise my hon. Friend’s consistent commitment to the idea of improving the capability of the civil service. However, I do not think I agree with his premise, and I invite him to visit the Government’s digital service because he will see a department that feels unlike any other in Government. It is full of extraordinary talent that has come in to work for Government, often at below market rates, because they want to make that difference.

The arrogant complacency of the Minister’s answers shows just how out of touch he is. Some 80% of Government interactions take place with the bottom 25% of society, but only 15% of people living in deprived areas use a Government service online. The promised assisted digital provision is still nowhere to be seen, locking our citizens out of his digital democracy. That is why Labour has announced a review of digital government, to make it work for the many, not the few. Is it not time that he did the same?

Again, we absolutely will not take any lessons from the Labour party about digital government. We are committed to the idea of transforming the great digital service. The feedback has been tremendous so far, and we have a hard commitment that every transformation will be accompanied by an assisted digital programme.

Kettering borough council, of which I have the privilege of being a member, is having great difficulty in complying with the Cabinet Office protocols on e-mail traffic with local government. May I arrange a meeting with the Minister and a representative from the authority so that we can get this sorted out?

I have heard that from other sources, not least in my own local authority, so I am happy to take that matter up with my hon. Friend directly.