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e-Government head's parting shot

It was good to talk

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Ian Watmore, Britain's head of e-government, vacated his post yesterday after 18 months in the job, but will continue to influence on the e-gov strategy from his new billet at the Cabinet Office.

He was much liked by two limbs of government that are not normally so supportive of central policy makers: suppliers and local authorities.

IT suppliers declared him a breath of fresh air. This was despite his tenure coinciding with a nadir in relations between government and suppliers.

He pulled this off in part by being believable, partly by scattering some of that management consultant magic he brought with him from his previous job as managing director of Accenture. Watmore did what all management consultants do best - he got everyone round the table for a nice chat.

This gave suppliers embittered by recent blinkered steamrolling of policy by the Office of Government Commerce, the bit of government that manages supplier relations, some hope for the future. Whether their hope was justified will be borne out with the results of the current round of consultations one of Watmore's legacies, the government IT strategy.

If nothing Watmore encouraged the sort of meetings where suppliers could get the opportunity to network with key civil servants. Presiding over such meetings, Watmore would be praised for his "dynamism".

The same inclusive approach to relations with local government also endeared Watmore to local authorities.

Steve Baker, chief executive of Suffolk Coastal District Council, said he was "charismatic", brought "focus" and "consensus" and, "more importantly to me, he brought local government into the equation."

This is not just about keeping outsiders happy with central government so it can better impose policy. The dialogue between suppliers and government at all levels having been repaired, executives are finding they are learning important things from one another that help them do their jobs better.

Surprisingly, it turns out they all have the same aim - building good government computer systems. That first step having been made, the next is to improve public scrutiny of these expensive public projects.

Watmore made a statement yesterday to mark his departure for his new job as head of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit at the Cabinet Office. Paraphrased, his deputy Andrew Stott will be taking over while they look for a replacement and his work will be carried forward by the CIO Council of civil service IT bosses, which had its first anniversary meeting last Friday.

"I will still sit on this council," said Watmore. "Working closely with other council members and the new e-Government Unit Head who will replace me as Chair - to ensure we continue to make progress. I will maintain overall responsibility for the work of the e-Government Unit in my new role at the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit."®

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