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The government has hired legal experts in an effort to block publication of Gateway reviews of the National Identity Card programme.

Legal representation will come from the Treasury's Solicitors department, which has had approval to bring in external legal experts and a Queen's Counsel to fight a decision by the information commissioner, Richard Thomas, that two Gateway Reviews on ID cards can be published. The use of legal experts is expected to cost between £20,000 and £50,000.

GC News understands that some senior government officials have quietly indicated they would prefer the Gateway Review system to be more open, while some on the industry side prefer to keep it discreet.

A spokesperson for the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) told GC News that the Treasury, the parent department for the OGC, will fight to protect the "integrity" of Gateway reviews.

"We will defend the integrity of the process and we have enough legal reasons to appeal (against the Information Commissioner's decision)," the spokesperson said.

"People on the project or programme (including suppliers and civil servants) speak honestly with no holds barred we need to preserve that. Our aim is to help projects and the programme work efficiently."

Other reasons for the secrecy include a belief that the reporting of the reviews could be taken out of context and create an inaccurate picture which would require additional resources to correct.

Thomas ruled at the time that the reports did not contain information which would cause participants to be less willing to contribute openly and fully in future Gateway Reviews.

The OGC spokesperson said the Gateway Reviews, which look at project implementation work, have made savings of £1.5bn since 2003. The scheme was instigated and is run by OGC, which has refused all requests under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act for the results of two Gateways on ID cards to be published.

Initially, the OGC refused to provide copies of the reviews even to the information commissioner.

Computer Weekly reported that the commissioner wrote to the OGC asking for a hard copy of the reviews which were needed to reach a determination under the FoI Act. The commissioner had to get OGC specified assurances before the information was released to him.

In August 2006, Thomas ruled under the FoI Act that the OGC should publish two Gateway Zero Reviews on the ID Card scheme.

Gateway Zero looks at whether the government has the right skills to manage the programme, whether all the major risks have been identified, if there is a continuing need for new systems, and whether all the expectations for the programme are realistic.

If the OGC had accepted the commissioner's decision it would have opened the door for other Gateway reviews to be published on other risky IT projects such as the National Programme for IT.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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