Despite Britain’s poor track record with big public sector IT schemes, much of Labour’s programme depends on them—from NHS reform to ID cards. What accounts for the high rate of failure? Has the government learnt from past mistakes?
Plans for reforming public services over the next few years depend on a large number of gigantic new information technology systems. Every four months, Tony Blair receives a progress report on current IT projects judged to be “mission critical.” The mission critical list is secret, but is believed to contain more than 20 projects, covering everything from council tax reform to the 2012 Olympics.
The government already spends £14bn a year on computer systems and services, the highest figure in Europe and double the sum spent in 1999. The public sector accounts for 55 per cent of the whole UK market for IT.
One of the most politically sensitive IT-dependent reforms is in the NHS. The NHS is creating electronic health records for every individual in England, linked by a data “spine,” that will also allow electronic appointment booking. Contracts worth about £6bn have already been signed; the total cost