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Is the UK.gov IT gravy train heading for the buffers?

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The Home Office declined to answer, for some reason taking exception to any question about what the legal responsibilities of an incoming government were and refusing absolutely to "discuss hypotheticals". Perhaps they have fallen for New Labour’s vision of a 1000-year rule, and regard any change of government as purely hypothetical.

Or maybe they are just embarrassed by the story, reported last week, that contracts for the National ID database contain compensation clauses suggesting any suppliers who lose out on cancellation of this project will be paid not only costs accrued to that point, but also a sum in lieu of lost profits.

A Home Office spokesman described such practices as "normal and fully within government guidelines".

Of course, government does not have to honour contracts at all. First, because no government can abolutely bind a successor government to a particular policy: second, because they can always pass a law making the existing contract illegal. In practice, there are likely to be some very interesting negotiations in the early days of a new administration.

If they are too harsh on existing suppliers, then they will find it very hard to purchase IT in future. However, government also has considerable leverage: despite the Conservatives' claim that they will reduce the influence of consultants in Whitehall, they will still need IT - and it is likely that suppliers who are flexible when it comes to ending contracts will be viewed far more favourably than those who insist on the letter of the contract.

One last area of fall-out may lie in policing. Under Labour, what the police have asked for they have often received. The Tories have always been far more sceptical of police claims, both in respect of the need for extra powers (42 days' detention springs instantly to mind) and more hi-tech surveillance. Arresting an Opposition front bench spokesman shortly before a change of administration is definitely unpolitic, and guaranteed to neither win friends nor influence people.

Chances are that any incoming Tory government will tread delicately. Some of the money will inevitably have been spent already, and the cost savings are not all going to be available in one year. Still, for a party now committed to cutting government spending, the sums represented by these projects (and therefore the cutting-off of same) are not trivial – perhaps as much as £40bn in total. We predict some very sour contractor faces in the not too distant future. ®

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