In-depth

Labour's digital review: The good and the bad

Why Labour's digital review is right about focusing on skills, and wrong about expanding the GDS

Labour's proposed shake-up of government IT procurement "stirs up a hornet's nest" of issues, according to an analyst.

The party last week welcomed the findings of an independent report it had commissioned to propose ideas that would inform its digital strategy should it come to power next May.

The review, entitled Making Digital Government Work for Everyone, makes 35 recommendations that will be considered as Labour defines its manifesto ahead of 2015's General Election.

Procurement

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But the report does call on the party to fix the Coalition's "antagonistic" relationship with large, incumbent suppliers as well as simplifying myriad cloud procurement frameworks to make them easier for SMBs to use.

While TechMarketView analyst Georgina O'Toole welcomes the review's desire to shake up procurement, she warns there are a lot of problems to address.

She says: "The review stirs up a hornet's nest when it comes to procurement. But then we always thought it would. There is so much to question."

She points to the "confusing number of different arrangements" when it comes to procurement, and agrees that rationalisation is required.

Specifically, the review wants a future Labour government to reduce the number of procurement frameworks that exist over time.

It says the current proliferation of frameworks with similar offerings is a barrier to smaller suppliers, who may have to sign up to several to avoid missing out on potential customers.

"When suppliers are small the cost of keeping up-to-date with ever-changing frameworks can be a high percentage of their revenues and give a disincentive to enter the public sector," it reads.

However, Stephen Roberts, MD of analyst house Kable, expects to see different types of frameworks listed alongside G-Cloud, the cloud commodity framework, believing they could be well-used by being simpler than the catch-all that G-Cloud has become.

"Some buyers prefer frameworks which offer a clearer guide to the appropriate shortlist and choice, we'll likely see these types of vehicles on the Digital Marketplace in addition to G-Cloud," he says.

O'Toole agrees with the review's welcoming of the current Government's open contracting approach, where bids are made visible to encourage competition, but warns "we need to be careful of falling into the cheaper is better' trap that a focus on price rather than performance can lead to."

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Another recommendation is for the next government to publish guidelines on how multiple firms can work together on the same project.

It also suggests that Labour work together with large suppliers to fix damage it claims has been done by the current Cabinet Office's drive to break free of incumbents' large, expensive contracts.

The review says: "The language and debate became extremely heated. There appeared to be a desire to demonise all large suppliers rather than to highlight the bad while praising the good.

"We should aim to work together to produce those better outcomes rather than simplistically labelling all large suppliers as bad."

However, O'Toole points out the report is keen to embrace the Coalition's red lines policy, where no IT contract can exceed 100 million.

"What the review doesn't question is the red lines' drawn by the Cabinet Office," she says, adding that the report misses the opportunity to state support (or a lack of it) for the Government's service integration and management (SIAM) tower procurement model, where a prime supplier co-ordinates the delivery of separate but related contracts.

"We are also keen to understand what comes next'; the current administration has stated the tower model is short-term and won't be appropriate under Government-as-a-Platform. So what will be?" she questions.

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