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A parliamentary committee heard yesterday that government relies too much on outsourcing and needs better in-house IT skills.

Parliament's public administration committee was told that the failure of many UK government technology projects is partly due to being tied into large outsourcing deals with a small group of suppliers. Helen Margetts, professor of society and the internet at the Oxford Internet Institute, said that a lack of in-house capability to take over when things go wrong added to the problem.

Governments in countries such the US, Canada and New Zealand are much better at procuring and managing ICT deals than the UK, Margetts said.

These countries often use local SMEs; Canada, for example, has significant in-house expertise so that government staff can step in if necessary. Margetts said: "You can only get that by recognising the need for expertise in-house and not saying that we have outsourced and so we do not need those skills anymore."

But she added: "No one country has the solution, but there are factors we can draw on."

The committee was meeting to take evidence for its investigation of the government's use of IT. It said that over the years, numerous reports on how government can improve its use of IT have come up with the same recommendations – suggesting that it is easier to identify a problem than achieve change.

Margetts said that action is being take to reduce the size of contracts, but existing deals which are often difficult to change.

She said that government had been very slow in picking up on technology to transform services, unlike many private sector companies which use the internet to find out what the public wants.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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