Public Sector IT

Sep 23 2009   6:00AM GMT

Whitehall and the irritant FOI Act

tcollins1 Profile: tcollins1

Tags:
NPfIT
poor communications

The Department of Health has been unable to provide convincing evidence that a contract awarded to KPMG went to an open competitive tender.

When I asked the department’s press office about the KPMG contract a spokesman tried to be helpful though only up to a point.

So yesterday I turned my questions into a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Twice the press officer refused to accept my request. Then I gave him information that is on the website of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, and which shows that an FOI request can be made to anyone in a public authority, including a press officer.

FOI legislation imposes a burden on most, if not all, public authorities. Most bear it as a necessary virtue. And the Department of Health?

Last year the Information Commissioner issued an formal notice to the DH because of its approach to FOI requests.

The Commissioner found that the Department:

 -repeatedly refused FOI requests as a general principle rather thanconsidering each case on its merits. This might have had the effect of”suppressing” information which should have been released, said theCommissioner’s office.

– gave the Information Commissioner’s office incorrect information

–  refused to release information it didn’t even possess

Some may question whether the DH knows what it’s doing. I wouldlike to believe that it does, particularly as it is still in overallcontrol of the direction (or meandering) ofthe NPfIT, which remains the government’s biggest IT investment.

**

Inmy FOI request to the DH press officer over the KPMG contract, Ipointed out that the department had not supplied anything thatresembled an open tender.

I said, too, that the department’sreluctance to supply that evidence could give rise to a perception thatit is awarding contracts to a favoured supplier, which could deprivethat supplier of independence: would it be awarded new contracts if itsfindings did not agree with those of the department?

There’s a need for the department to show that its tenders are open and competitive, which would assure taxpayers, suppliers, and others,that it is not exercising favouritism; and that it is not dispensingcontracts to consultants with a view to their saying what thedepartment wants them to say. It needs to provide evidencethat it’s spending public money in an fair and accountable way.

So far I haven’t had an acknowledgment. 

Links:

Coyness over ‘open tender’ KPMG health contract – a systemic problem surfaces? – IT Projects blog

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