By Max Clarke

The National Audit Office has today published a review of how government uses Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to deliver public services. The review, the purpose of which is to inform the debate about government's new use of ICT, gives an overview of existing uses, as well as initiatives and changes underway.
It details a number of big challenges the government faces in protecting and improving the value for money of ICT and in ensuring that ICT is deployed fully in the drive to secure sustainable cost reduction.

In response to such challenges and a worsening financial situation, the government has made a number of changes, prominent among which was the formation in June 2010 of the Efficiency and Reform Group that is taking a new approach to securing value for money from ICT. The Group has been responsible for a number of new initiatives, including the moratorium on central government's signing new ICT contracts worth more than £1 million without agreement from the Minister for the Cabinet Office; a mandatory review of all ICT projects currently underway to identify waste; and a drive to renegotiate contracts with suppliers.

Most of the Group's initiatives are at a very early stage and it is too early for the National Audit Office to evaluate their effect. The spending watchdog indicates, however, that today's review will set the ground for future evaluations of these and other initiatives designed to achieve value for money from ICT spending.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today:

"Government is knowledge intensive. Effective information and sound ICT strategies go hand in hand. We will take a strong interest in future in how government is making the most of ICT to secure efficiencies and make possible new ways of delivering public services. At the same time, we will be looking at the steps being taken by government to rationalize its ICT, to achieve short-term cost savings."

Emma Watkins, Head of Public Services Policy at the CBI commented:

“Making better use of information technology could boost the efficiency of our public services, while reaping big savings for taxpayers.

“There are many good examples of how technology is improving public service delivery. From giving midwives handheld devices so that they can access patient records on the move, to installing emergency alarms in the homes of older people, allowing them to live independently for longer.

“While it’s right to focus on getting value for money from contracts and procurement, imposing a moratorium on IT modernisation could mean we are missing out on the potential benefits that making better use of technology can deliver.”