back to article Government waves cutlass at IT budget

Treasury minister Yvette Cooper yesterday announced a plan to look for wide-ranging cost cuts in government budgets. Martin Read, the government's Chief Information Officer, will look for savings in back office and IT spending. Other strands include collaborative procurement, asset management, sales and property. Read, ex-CEO …


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  1. Dangermouse

    Want to reduce costs?

    Re-introduce the old Government IT department, bring out-sourced contracts back in-house, and bin the projects that are not required.

    ID cards, for a start.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Halo


    Get rid of the job-for-life, never-get-fired jobsworths in the public sector ... and not just the MPs

  3. Richard

    stop buying microsoft and use open source ... works for poorer governments

    Seriously, how many civil servants actually need a full OS and big desktop apps? Give them thin clients running a free embedded OS and have ALL data centrally served with central backups and encryption and just give them a slimmed down office style application and web front-ends to databases and workflow apps. For legacy windows apps use a Virtual Desktop approach with things iike VMware/Zen/Wine etc al and only pay for concurrent licences.

    Pull ALL windows laptops from officials .. they can't be trusted with mobile data and instead give them wifi and 3G cloud computing with strong authentication and encrypted VPNs back to the central cloud. Then they could use much cheaper laptops with a minimal OS that is locked down so they cannot muck about with them but just do their jobs.

    Sure it will cost and will take some time to implement but why not actually start planning it now?

  4. Guy
    Black Helicopters

    Where's the Playmobil

    Government and Cutlasses...........too good an opportunity to miss

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Steven

    The Easy 3 Step Plan

    1. Drop ID cards (probably the 50% saved straight away).

    2. Go open source (more secure and probably save millions).

    3. Job done.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    They'd probably go for that, which would be annoying. Sending UK government funds abroad would be JUST what they would go for. Nevermind the jobs that would be lost in relatively low-paid positions.

    What they should do is look at cost savings. Free software is one possible option. Or stop just throwing out a full-fat image on everyone's computer. Bringing some support tasks in-house, use of things like Open Office are also possible options (how many people actually NEED the full functions of things like Excel?).

    Also the anecdotes about departments refurbishing their offices every year aren't jokes. I've seen it happen.

  8. Scott
    Thumb Down

    Makes sense...

    Get more competent people and it saves you money simple, any one thats been near civil servants knows that they got a job for life, shame the rest of the country doesn't work like that. Biggest joke in the NHS when i was there was about the number of "meetings" that everyone had, funny how there kids where always picked up at the local private school at 3 when i was working till 5? My favorite meetings where the ones that where to decide what the meetings should be called?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Save £12B canning the predicatably catastrophic NHS "Connecting For Health"[sic]? And then there's this gravy train labelled "ID cards..."

  10. John Latham


    Requirements of civil servants are little different from any other class of office worker.

    No other large organisation uses the sort of infrastructure you propose (AFAIK), and the solution would end up expensive and broken, since government projects are generally made that way by introducing requirements that no sane business would insist upon.

    Central government departments are all run autonomously reporting to different ministers; IT is just another function within the business. Try getting 30 companies to agree on a single desktop build, and once you've got that working try and apply the same to central government departments.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How will this improve security?

    Now, instead of the government losing data on half the country through incompetance, it intends to do so by cost-cutting.

    How about this for an idea?

    Instead of giving my money to some fat bastard running a sweat shop to make a profit, how about doing it yourselves using competent staff?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Having worked in the public sector...

    ...and then at one of these "fat cat" outsourcing companies that everyone likes to bleat on about costing too much money I'd just like to say that at least the outsourcing company staff knew one end of a PC from the other.

    Seriously the NHS Scotland was outsourced to AO but then they still had their own internal IT staff who were all utter retards (barring one or two) who knew they didn't have to do anything and still have a job for life. Why outsource AND keep internal staff?

    One hospital I went to in Glasgow and the IT staff there were all working hard - 1 was reading a novel, 1 watching a video, 1 fixing his home PC, 1 playing a game, 1 making amusing pictures with Photoshop. There's a good £100k you could save by just sacking those tossers. Another IT Developer couldn't understand the idea of a capital letter in a password and someone had to drive to him to log him in.

    The worst excesses of wasted money I have seen are because they like to treat each IT project as a totally ring-fenced item. As a result I have seen systems go in that doa very similar role to another but it has ended up with it's own domain controllers and web servers that aren't exactly overloaded. NHS IT project managers like making their own little empire

    Outsourcing isn't great - I don't work for an outsourcing company anymore mostly because I think they just add an extra layer of management in to everything. Outsourcing does work when an organisation's internal IT are incompetent and you need to add people who know what they are talking about, which is sadly the case in any government department.

  13. Anonymous Coward


    "Also the anecdotes about departments refurbishing their offices every year aren't jokes. I've seen it happen." Too True. I was informed by a mate working for DEFRA that they recently spunked £11 million on refurbishing offices in the north west this year. Including an office in Carlisle which had be refurbished less than 2 years previously. Staff came in and were able to take office furniture etc away as it was written off (here you go have this 'slightly used desk' it'll only be dumped in the skip outside otherwise). And 'slightly used' being the words as the amount of Holiday, privilege days, chairman days, TOIL for travelling + working from home, no one is in the bloody office.

  14. caffeine addict

    Thin Clients

    Nah, this government will never go for thin clients... They'll never outlay the cash to make it work.

    One machine goes down (probably a 486 in the cleaner's cupboard) and an entire department stops working.

    On general overspend - it's obvious how the government overspends on IT. I watch one of my clients do it every day. They spec up a new IT project (which normally means "a database"). The spec comes over explaining in detail how the website will integrate with the seatbelt tensioners on the bosses WiFi enabled BMW but completely misses things like "oh, and a backend so we can see what people entered".

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Civil Service hasn't a clue.

    I had to explain to a mate who is involved (Key decision maker) in the NHS IT debacle what thin client and citrix meant. So if they don't know the basics there is no hope!

  16. David Cornes

    Open Source? Nice idea but...

    I worked on the HMRC desktop upgrade project in 2006 (NT4 -> XP). I worked for the testing teams who had the mommoth task of validating the XP platform for everything that was currently being done on NT4.

    Do you have *any* idea the amount of apps that dept (HMRC) alone used?? Yeah there were the bog standard office apps, but then there were customised apps based on those (Excel, Access, etc), Outlook for the Exchange backend, and then there were HUNDREDS of other apps used for more specific tasks. Add in legacy apps, access to mainframe services, old but critical odds and sods... the bottom line is that just moving all of that onto Linux would probably take years. And some of it would probably never make it, so you'd need to either source or develop alternatives, or some kind of Citrix/virtualised solution.

    And as to the muppet who seems to think "civil servants" just type numbers into a green screen or something and so only need a cut down desktop, well it might surprise you to realise the majority of them are just like any other 21st century corporate worker, with all the same requirements on the desktop/laptop. And ALL the same issues. Note that I bet pretty much all govt depts outsource (at least) their desktop infrastructure to the big services companies - why? 'Cos at the end of the day they have pretty much the same stuff as every other big business.

    I'm not saying there aren't savings to be found, but rip-and-replace with OSS is not the simple answer.

  17. Matt Finish

    The trouble with public sector funding... that they put in different pockets. Even in a small public sector company I worked at, they played one department's budget off against another as if they were separate incomes. As Mr Hobbs stated above, outsourcing has costs associated with it. For private companies, those costs are someone else's problem, so it still makes business sense even when the quality of the work is shoddy (2 out of 3 IT projects I have seen outsourced needed extensive rewriting). So while the Department of Heath trumpet savings in IT, the DSS scratch their heads at the influx of jobless IT workers. This is wrong thinking, it all comes out of one pocket, the pocket of Mr Taxpayer.

  18. Al


    Will this mean that sensitive data will instead get lost in 'foreign' countries, so there's the added security of people not understanding it if they find it? It's certainly a

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Behind the times

    As someone who does accounts payable for Indian IT work i can tell you that the days of getting half-competent IT workers for peanuts over there are over.

    The demand now is so high that the outsourcing companies have had to raise salaries up to western levels (higher in some cases) to keep even the most mediocre skilled employees from moving around to jobs that pay more.

    So the outsourcers have had to embed costs all over the place, as well as the "unforeseen expenses" to keep up.

    The skillset over there is fractured so much you will be lucky if you get more than a few capable per project, the rest of the former streetsweepers (waving MCSE certificates bought for 20 rupees) will cause you more expense and pain that you'll get even with our public sector muppets.

    I despair that this fad is still in vogue, i really do.

  20. Dangermouse

    @John Lathem

    "Try getting 30 companies to agree on a single desktop build, and once you've got that working try and apply the same to central government departments."

    My point exactly.

    If a large multi-national Bank can get a standard desktop build out into the wild with no problems, then Central Government with a single Technology department (how's the "Department of Technology (c) " for a name?) staffed with decent professionals should be able to as well. 30 companies on their own will not agree on a build, but given an Overload who has some teeth will drag them all together and force a build that works on them should work. Just imagine the billions that are going out to the likes of EDS, HP, Crapita, Fujitsu etc across the different departments to deliver crap. Think of all the money wasted on failed projects. Think of the money wasted on lost productivity and time. Think of the money wasted on "consultations" and tendering. Think of the deals and savings that could be made with single hardware and software suppliers, be it Microsoft or Open Source. Standardised Data Retention Policies. Standardised Data handling policies. Standardised procurement. Project Management to agreed procedures and policies. All money saving ideas. And then think of how much a difference in that money stayed inhouse, paying good British IT people good wages to create a coheirent reliable IT environment. And the effect that would have on the British economy.

    Ah, Nirvarna.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    re: any one thats been near civil servants knows that they got a job for life

    I can only assume Scott hasn't been near any Civil Servants – otherwise he wouldn't kick out the same tired rubbish about them or if he has, they are the ones constantly being insulted by brain dead people who wonder why they don't get greeted in a friendly manner.

    Having spent a long time in the Civil Service and quite some time outside – there are just as many incompetent "lifers" working outside as working for the Government, Civil Servants do get sacked and redundancy programmes occur when they move things around or out source things (something they were still doing 10 years ago, even though it was recognised as not giving good value!)

    But perhaps you should consider I am now doing the same type of thing for a private company – at >3x what I got as a Civil Servant (and yes I include the generous pension) – so who gets the best deal?

  22. Yorkshirepudding
    Black Helicopters

    oh noes

    this daft bint is my MP so i'd be worried judging by the state of my ward!

  23. Jay

    Save costs? My arse!

    With some experience of working with civil serfs both in-house and out sourced, sure, figures look good, cut your dev costs by 50%, then add 100% cost for the extra management to manage an out sourced project...

    oh wait...

    management...government/council...erm, add 200% management costs (subject to review)!

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    Id outsource everything then like Engineering Degrees, we can also tag the IT and Comp Science degrees as useless.

    Ever wonder why no big advances are made any more and why moores law seems to be failing.

    Sod em, im moving to a country that still has some dignity, so i should not really care, and I dont :)

  25. Anonymous Coward

    In my own experience.

    Again Civil servents have no accountability and are unsackable. The large outsourcing companies like EDS milk every penny and spend nothing to improve the situation.

    To some of the questions above about VMware and Citrix...I've seen EDS projects involving Citrix and what a huge ugly mess it turned out to be (link4 ring any bells chaps) so I doubt any type of thin client technology would save money.

    Solution: There's none. Just pay your taxes and hang on for the ride.

    I'll get my coat and emigrate. Bye.

  26. Mr_Flibble


    What costs a lot of money in government it is all the security regulations (half of them being pointless)

    Being forced to use an internet connection (where a 2Mb link costs almost £100k)

    Also in a lot of cases they will not use open source as they don't know anything about it, and if they don't know about it it's insecure.

    So as usual red tape costs more money.

  27. pete
    Dead Vulture

    What now ...

    Is there any way we could just scrap this lot of numpties and just start again?

  28. Gordon Pryra

    Why spend 4 billion on air craft carriers

    With one hand the Govenrment spend 4 billion on some crap air craft carriers, giving cash to only 10k scots and then on the other hand stop giving cash to UK contractors?

    Surly its better to have a stronger IT industry than 10000 blokes in skirts employed for 2 more years?

    Fuck you Brown and all your dress wearing buddies

  29. Joel Stobart

    Outsource.... to Google

    Replace all the os/s with Linux (5 year hardware life), and use Google docs... and gears for the whole public sector. Reward excellence and sack failures. Put all the applications on-line and then there's very little people actually need. kill off ID cards - because they cost lots, and no-one wants/needs them. we could actually get the 486's out of the cleaners cupboards and start using them as desktops.

    Maybe getting rid of the ID cards could pay for free dentistry... that would be nice. And invest in new open-source IT solutions for public sector so that we stimulate growth in the IT sector, and lead the world in IT....

    I love my pipe dreams...

    - Joel

  30. Galaxy Bob

    Outsourcing -v- Offshoring

    I always have a little chuckle at these comments sections. So many people who *think* they are intelligent and mock everyone who doesn't think open source is "the bestest evAR!!!!!one11111, yet they slip up on things like the difference between offshoring and outsourcing.

    Outsourcing is getting another company to run that part of your business for you, offshoring is running it from another country.

    Outsourcing is a very viable route for the government to take, offshoring is not. The Government will not be able to offshore due to security restrictions. I know this because I have a lot of knowledge and experience with government IT and how it works.

  31. Jon Kale

    @Galaxy Bob

    "I know this because I have a lot of knowledge and experience with government IT and how it works."

    Surely this disqualifies you from commenting round these parts

  32. Anonymous Coward

    @ Dave Cornes

    If I remember correctly you came out of the woodwork a couple of years ago to defend something or other about HMRC IT.

    I imagine, then, that you are well placed to remind us how long it took to upgrade HMRC from NT4 to XP, and to explain why all these custom applications running on Microsoft applications on a Microsoft platform took any time at all to be ported?

    I think the Select Committee criticisms of all this will show it was a bit longer than two years, so Linux next time is it? Because if NT4 -> XP was bad, we all know what XP -> Vista is going to be like.

  33. Anonymous Coward

    They are going for thin client desktops.

    What is more, all of the permitted software is proprietary and paid, and the thin client setup will enforce this.

    How successfully this will be implemented is another matter. Obviously, IT Divisions aren't able to use the limited accounts in W2k or XP Pro to do this, probably because of all the legacy stuff requiring unrestricted (and in some cases, real mode) runtime access.

    As for economising on software, forget it. For the non-standard software (i.e. where the local budget holder has to authorise payment), they don't even want you to make use of existing unused licences. Our branch tried once. The unit that handles purchasing and records of licences wanted us to buy new licences and would not confirm or deny that we had existing licences (indeed, they stopped replying to our emails when we asked). As to what goes on with the standard, centrally budgeted software, I dread to think.

  34. Steve

    @ AC

    I think you'll find that the majority was testing. Not fixing, not re-training and not re-coding. That's the difference.

    NT4 to XP isn't exactly hard - and the compatibility between the two is superb. The fact that it takes them bloody years to test them all has little to do with the platform but rather the management of the project.

    Adding another 2 years on top to re-write half the apps and then to train the admins is even more of a waste of cash.

  35. JimC


    > a large multi-national Bank can get a standard desktop build

    > out into the wild with no problems

    Even if we don't mention the various occasions on which exactly that has been stuffed up royally, multinational bank IT is a piece of piss compared to government IT. There is just so much less diversity in the organisation.

  36. Anonymous Coward

    legacy stuff is/was the problem

    The legacy systems (where folks' entire lives are stored) were (as other posters have said) the main problem due to the fact that it uses (by today's standard) prehistoric methods of computing. your average civvy pleb (particularly the younger ones) wouldn't understand it and it would take ages to make payments. Training was poor in my section and I manged to trash my user account several times as I gained more and more access to do stuff. Being used to Beebs did help however as I managed to negotiate round the system. About 6 months into the job I eventually found the training manual for it, but I no longer needed it as I could remember all the login codes. A lot of time was wasted as team leaders as they produced endless amounts of documentation explaining how the system worked. Getting data off legacy was a long, tortuous process, but that said, it wasn't rocket science either. For the Windows/Office apps, I agree, Linux boxes would have done the job. Still, when they're paying almost 10 times the amout they should for paper, what would you expect? Anyone thinking of converting legacy to windowese whether offshore or outsourced, would, in my opinion, need their heads testing and that includes know nothing ministers.

  37. David Cornes

    @ Anonymous Coward

    Nice of you to put your name to your comments ;-)

    Well I must confess I was only a lowly techy and not party to high level project meetings, but I do know CapGemini were patting themselves and all involved heartily on the back for delivering 100k desktops in something like a year or so. The main work was in creating a standardised XP platform, and then validating what would still work on it, and finding upgrades or alternatives for what wouldn't (and then validating those of course). I recall we had a testing spreadsheet (Excel 'natch) with several hundred distinct applications on it, probably something like 40/60 COTS/custom developed stuff.

    At the same time the servers were going 2003/AD, *and* an Exchange migration, *and* the Inland Revenue and HM Customs estates were being consolidated from two completely separate infrastructures.

    Given the amount of time they stayed with NT4 I can't really see Vista ever getting a look in. Of course if they started now they'd have a lot more time to come up with a viable OSS alternative when the time comes!

  38. DaveB

    No Focus

    This government probably are spending more money on IT than on its wars. Yet we have a MOD but no M of IT.

    I have never understood why government don't build a centre of IT excellence. If they did that then they would know that ID cards are a stupid idea.

  39. William Old
    Gates Horns

    @David Cornes

    But at least if it was all moved to Linux, there'd be half a chance of public sector IT systems complying with open standards.

    At present, neither the HMRC Self Assessment system, nor the (Microsoft) Government Gateway complies with one of the most basic Internet open standards that there is... e-mail addresses!

    Despite RFC822 (partly replaced with RFC2822), neither of those two systems will accept a perfectly valid, RFC822-compliant e-mail address with an ampersand character (&) in the local part, which gets rejected as an "illegal e-mail address". The excuse is that "it's not allowed by GovTalk", which is MS-speak for "Our security model is so fundamentally broken that we cannot allow any input containing an ampersand in case the server gets compromised".

    The irony is that all of this arose out of an ongoing e-mail correspondence with HMRC and the Cabinet Office using... yes, you guessed it!... the "illegal" e-mail address with the ampersand in it!!

  40. tim

    @Joel Stobart

    Fantastic idea. Push the data out into the "cloud" (or aether, more correclty) where it's uncontrolled, and freely available at the convenience of organised crime, the Chinese or whoever else has an intelligence requirement concerning our government. And then we have classified data...

    The data spillage situation sucks now, but at least they government has *some* control over it.

  41. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Cinderella RockerFellAI ?

    "Outsourcing is a very viable route for the government to take, offshoring is not. The Government will not be able to offshore due to security restrictions. I know this because I have a lot of knowledge and experience with government IT and how it works." .... By Galaxy Bob Posted Friday 4th July 2008 14:42 GMT

    "Is there any way we could just scrap this lot of numpties and just start again?" ... By pete Posted Friday 4th July 2008 13:52 GMT

    There is absolutely nothing to stop IT Boffins creating a Transparent Shadow Government which Transparently shares ITs QuITe Intentional Plans on the World Wide Web .... for All and Sundry to Improve with Peer Review Comment 42 Generate Constructive Shared Input for Program Output/Projects dDevelopment.

    Government would be as Welcome with such Simple Feedback as any Thoughtful, Caring to Dare Soul ...... Virtual ZerodDay Trader.

    IT is certainly something the System is starting to Realise is into Global Control and they will have to arrange Accomodation/Core Investment. ....... [New York Times/]

    And the notion is not unknown at the Primary Point of Contact found here ......

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    From the front line

    Whenever we outsource, we spend exactly the same amount of money or higher, and It's not (always) because the company is a bit tin pot. The issue with any government contract is basically that its specified by persons with no IT knowledge. No matter who does the work, the initial tender will be misssing critical aspects and the requirements revisted half a dozen times. Even then, outsourced companies will smell the possibility of extra profit, after all, with no expertise, who can query them. Even worse, when in-house work is scheduled a lot (not all) of public sector employees will laze about with practically no man management, pausing only to strike on the odd ocasion. The only way to really win is to revisit how contracts are awarded and make them performance related.

  43. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    They did...

    It was called the CCTA (

    It worked very well, and saved the government a lot of money.

    The IT industry, lead by CSC, lobbied for it to be closed down, because it was 'unfairly competing with private industry, and taking 'their' government consultancy jobs'.

    So it was. A few useless fragments remain, but it no longer drives government computing. However, a lot of companies are now a lot richer...

    One interesting item of forgotten CCTA history is that during Maggie's reign there was an increase in football hooliganism and violence. One political proposal was to issue all supporters with an ID card - The Home Office wanted ID cards even in those days. CCTA Security and Privacy Group shot the idea down technically, and saved us from making that huge mistake then. Pity they're no longer here...

  44. David Evans

    Martin Read + Government CIO

    I thought John Suffolk was HM CIO, and that Martin Read was doing a review at Treasury...

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