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Tory technology treaty

19 March 2010

The campaigning has started by all the major parties, and anything said at this stage before an election is to be taken with a pinch of salt, but there are likely to be a fair few people whose attention might have been caught by the Conservative Technology Manifesto not least, anyone involved in public sector IT projects (as supplier or customer) any vendors of open source software, makers of smart meters and/or with an interest in data protection.

The document is a short one and, as with any pre-election material, has some positive suggestions in generic terms – an end to wasteful IT projects, a “right to data” policy and greater openness in most areas of public sector life, including publishing online all spending over £500 by local governments.

What might surprise some IT companies that contract with the public sector at the moment however, whatever their political persuasion, is the suggestion that contracts with local authorities that exceed certain thresholds (£500 for local authorities, £25,000 for central government and Quangos) will also be published “in full” – including in particular all performance indicators, break clauses and penalty measures. It’s a brave step and one that might highlight contracts that are overly favourable to suppliers and where the public sector is being unfairly penalised.

On the other hand – from the supplier’s perspective this raises issues of its own – “if you (large IT supplier) can provide those services and meet those service levels for that cost for the public sector, then why not for me, your prospective private sector customer?” There is a risk that too much transparency could mean public sector customers no longer get a better deal than the market.

And what about contracts provided by named “Key personnel” – will these individuals earn a celebrity of their own through contracts published online, or will data protection concerns override requirements in future legislation? Certainly the 35,000 most senior civil servants whose salaries are also required to be published online may have something to say if they can be identified from this information.

However this manifesto plays out, if, as currently predicted the conservatives are likely to be the next government, there are likely to be a few lively debates with the Office of the Information Commissioner before this manifesto becomes law.

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Richard Nicholas

Richard Nicholas

Partner and Responsible for In House Lawyers

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