Features: April 7th, 2006

Transformational Government: Is The Strategy Deliverable?

The Government’s latest IT strategy is unlikely to achieve its goals, according to a leading advisor to Parliament and the National Audit Office. ‘Transformational Government’, the Cabinet Office blue print for taking public services beyond eGovernment was published at the end of 2005.

Public spending expert Professor Colin Talbot has accused the Government of “losing its collective marbles” over its ‘Transformational Government’ plan which he dubs fanciful”, warning that the challenge of delivering it has been seriously under-estimated.

Writing for Public Sector Forums, the leading independent network of eGovernment practitioners, Professor Talbot of Manchester Business School casts doubt on whether the Government can deliver on the key areas of reform put forward in the strategy.

His comments come in the light of the recent National Audit Office report on the Government’s progress towards its ?5 bn efficiency savings target.

Prof Talbot, one of the country’s most authoritative specialists in the field of public sector performance and reform, argues the “killer fact” in the NAO report on Gershon is that only 15% of the ?5bn savings are predicted to come from ICT projects, about which the NAO says “the risks are well known”.

He comments: “Of course there are other good reasons for implementing ICT, but the fact that it accounts for such a small proportion of the Government’s efficiency drive will come as something of a surprise to many.”

Pulling on comments from the NAO and OGC, Professor Talbot highlights serious concerns about the strategy’s plans for shared services, remarking that “even if these programmes were a stunning success, which seems unlikely, they would contribute only 7% of the overall Gershon savings.”

Though transactional services form one of the strategy’s major strands, Professor Talbot points to the NAO’s finding that only 4% of the ?5bn efficiency savings are forecast to come from this area.

He remarks: “Improving transactional services is perhaps where government ought to benefit most. But it also an area where government policy has been in rapid transition with no obvious sign of slowing down. This makes it extremely hard to specify systems and has been a major risk factor in most large-scale systems development.”

Prof Talbot also warns that the strategy’s aim of supporting effective policy outcomes, meaning more joined-up, multi-agency approaches, has been shown to be “notoriously difficult to achieve.”

Another area tackled in the strategy – taking faster advantage of new innovations – is “so general as to be virtually meaningless”, says Talbot. He adds: “It is however linked in the paper to the idea of saving substantial amounts by getting rid of so-called legacy systems. This ignores a simple point – we will always have legacy systems, and the idea that they could all be gotten rid of is fanciful.”

Talbot asks: “Is it not about time someone got a grip on the realities of public services, and stopped flipping out into hyperdrive every time new technology gets mentioned?”

? Public Sector Forums – www.publicsectorforums.co.uk.

Professor Dr Colin Talbot is Chair of Public Policy and Management at Manchester Business School. He has worked for the UK and other governments advising on performance and public spending issues for the Treasury, Public Administration and Welsh Affairs Committees and is author of numerous papers, book chapters and books.