Philip Green’s report into how the government could save money was initially rather dominated by the way he has arranged his own personal tax affairs. Some of his ideas were also far from good – such as the idea that the government should become a slow payer of bills to small businesses – but there were also good ideas in the Philip Green report.
The government has now come up with its response to the report and its plans for implementing many of the recommendations. What particularly caught my eye was the boost to open data:
Spending on new information and communications technology (ICT) contracts with a lifetime value of above £5 million will be subject to central approval. This will ensure best value is achieved and that ICT solutions bought have a common infrastructure and open standards, allowing them to be used across public bodies.
Many of the other recommendations are also of the form – “if you want to do it, you have to get central government permission first”. The motivation behind that is understandable given how often poor procurement judgement has been exercised across the public sector, whether at the detailed level of paying very high prices for A4 paper through to multimillion pound website projects with very little to show for them.
And yet, and yet – thinking the answer to this is to centralise because those at the centre know best is just a bit New Labour, isn’t it? All of the points highlighted in a bullet point list near the top of the Cabinet Office’s press release are about centralisation. In fact, the government’s overall record is rather better than this, with in other areas budget responsibility being devolved and the opening up of data adding extra public scrutiny to spending decisions.
But it’s a rather off-message message from the Cabinet Office of all places to be boasting so heavily about centralisation without even a nod in the direction of centralisation not being a magic cure-all.