The scandal around Carillion has put the UK government’s addiction to outsourcing in the spotlight. Yet it is a practice that has been going on for many decades – not least in public sector IT.
For some years now the government has made noises about breaking away from the “IT oligopoly” – a phrase coined by former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude back in 2011.
However, a recent series of Parliamentary questions asking what steps departments have taken to exit major IT contracts revealed not much has changed. The answers amount to vague promises to disaggregate deals.
The fact that there is little evidence to suggest much has changed is worrying, especially given central government splashed £6.3bn with IT suppliers three years ago, with 42 per cent going to just three suppliers.
Insiders have said the distraction of Brexit and a lack of will by the Government Digital Service under Kevin Cunnington’s leadership have been blamed for the watering down of the reform agenda.
Certainly, the responses by ministers seem to bear that out.
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “Disaggregating contracts and the re-tendering them provides greater opportunity for Small and Medium Enterprises to provide tech services to government, directly or indirectly.
“A lot of SMEs have emerged in this market in recent years and we are encouraging them to provide better services for government and civil servants.”