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Cabinet Office promises to challenge 'culture of secrecy' on IT projects

New annual report will contain audits of major projects

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The Cabinet Office has insisted that it will publish details of the progress of major government IT projects, despite fears that government promises of transparency were in danger of being watered down in the face of departmental opposition.

Reports earlier this week suggested that although the Cabinet Office has won plaudits for its initiatives on the publication of government data, there is a fear that enthusiasm is stalling in parts of Whitehall.

Reports have emerged that departments most closely involved in IT projects are raising objections.

At the Intellect World Class Public Services conference earlier this week, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said that government IT still had a bad reputation for project delivery, and promised that "we will have something important to say soon about project management and civil service skills".

Commenting on the matter, a spokesman for the Cabinet Office told Guardian Government Computing: "Historically, fewer than a third of government major projects have delivered to original estimates of time, cost and quality. Since April 2011 the Major Projects Authority has enforced a tough new assurance regime and begun raising leadership standards within the civil service.

"The authority's first annual report will be published shortly. It will bring unprecedented scrutiny and transparency to our most expensive and highest risk programmes, changing forever the culture of secrecy that has allowed failure to be swept under the carpet."

Asked whether it would publish red, amber, green (RAG) ratings, the Cabinet Office said: "The annual report will contain details of the status of major projects."

Campaigners for the publication of gateway reviews on projects - short independent audits on the state of big projects that are conducted internally which can provide a warning if problems have developed - say a commitment to the publication of a report that details the status of major IT projects once a year does not go far enough and can only provide a snapshot of a project, and not an up-to-date status review of how projects are progressing.

Major IT project failures have dogged successive governments, and MPs on the public accounts committee (PAC), which regularly publishes reports detailing what went wrong with government IT projects, have called for the publication of gateway traffic light ratings for projects.

Richard Bacon, a Conservative MP on the PAC who has been pressing the head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake to put the gateway initiative in an action plan on civil service reform, said: "If there is no collective memory of why mistakes happen, we will never learn from them. There is no shame in mistakes – the shame is not learning from them. Too often the same thing goes wrong over and over again."

David Pitchford, executive director of the Major Projects Authority, is due to give evidence before the PAC later this month on assurance for high risk projects.

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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