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Francis Maude: Our Technology Manifesto launch

Britain today is emerging from its longest deepest recession.  Under Gordon Brown's management Britain was first in and last out of recession. 

At the same time he's delivered a fiscal crisis where the government is spending £4 for every £3 it gets in.  We can't go on like this.

We have to get the economy moving again. Britain needs once again to be a great place to do business, a country where people actively want to invest and do business.  That's the way to create jobs and wealth.

We've already set out detailed plans to cut taxes on new jobs created by entrepreneurs, and to reduce business taxes and regulations. In addition, we have published the Dyson Review, which sets out a road map to make Britain the leading high tech exporter in Europe and, as we have said, we are looking at how we can implement as many as possible of Sir James' recommendations as fast as possible.

Today we're setting out the next stage of our plans - an ambitious technology manifesto designed to boost British business and help create highly paid new jobs across the country. Our plans will give Britain the fastest high speed broadband network in Europe, helping to create 600,000 additional jobs. We will make the British government the most technology-friendly in the world, and meet our ambition that the next generation of Googles, Microsofts and Facebooks are British companies.

Jeremy is going to go into detail about the huge economic boost which these plans will provide and some of the policies which underpin them.  I want to talk about our plans for much greater transparency.  And I'll talk about our plans for Government ICT.

<h2>Labour's failings</h2>

Under Labour the Government has spent more per capita than any other government in Europe on IT - £108 billion over the past 8 years -yet Britain comes in at the bottom of the average range in the E-government ranking.  We're spending Chelsea money but heading towards the relegation zone.  Labour has squandered money on bloated and unnecessary IT projects. Individual departments and quangos have insisted on having their own bespoke train-sets which don't link up with each other and are all too often delivered late and over budget. 

The examples are too numerous to list.  I need only mention NPfiT -originally intended to be a 3-year project, budgeted at £2.3 billion.  If allowed to proceed it would now take over 13 years to complete, at a cost of nearly £13 billion.  It was the classic massive over-arching mega-project, doomed to failure.  What was needed was for the government to set open standards, to insist only that what providers bought was inter-operable and secure, and then allow open innovation to flourish. What a chance there was to stimulate innovation and growth in the economy, instead relying on a handful of large suppliers, and failing to open the market to smaller innovative British companies.

Worse, if possible has been the institutionally lax approach to the citizen's data.  The filing system at the Borders and Immigration Agency, the desk files in the Home Office, the theft of laptops at MoD, the loss of computer discs and the loss of 25 million records of the Child Benefit Database; it is an unacceptable catalogue of errors.

<h2>Our policies</h2> <h3>ICT </h3>

It doesn't have to be like this.  We will do things differently. If we win the next general election we will impose an immediate moratorium on all government contracts so we can start to regain control. We will then begin to re-introduce some basic standards to Government IT systems and procurements.

Firstly, we will create a presumption against projects larger than £100m; IT projects don't need to be huge - they just need to be able to talk to one another, so we will insist on open standards and interconnectivity between them. This is will also help open up the market to smaller suppliers and therefore stimulate the growth of new innovative British IT companies. We will also publish online all IT tender documents to enable the public to root out wasteful spending and help smaller businesses bid for government contracts.

Procurement can be much faster and cheaper than at present, without sacrificing quality and competitiveness.  We will ensure that the government becomes an intelligent and capable customer able to manage such procurements in-house without the huge spending on hiring consultants to do what a properly motivated and trained Civil Service should be able to do.  We will reduce the size and length of these procurement processes, which currently cost the firms that bid for the contracts millions of pounds and ultimately only drive up costs for the taxpayer. The average time to procure in Britain is 77 weeks.  In Germany it's 40 weeks.  And suppliers say that it can cost them three or four times as much to bid for a government contract as for one in the private sector.

We will also create a small IT development team in government - 'skunkworks' - that can develop low cost IT applications in-house. And we'll create a government app store, which would encourage creative re-use of applications and consequently drive down costs of IT in government.  There is too much re-invention at huge cost when a similar application has already been bought by the taxpayer in another part of government. 

<h3>Transparency</h3>

Absolutely crucial to our vision for the new Britain is data transparency. We are passionate about the genuinely transformative powers of free data to open up new opportunities for businesses and to make it easier for the public to scrutinise how the government is spending their money.  The era of closed shop government is over.

Together in our technology manifesto for the first time is the raft of policies we have which aim to open up government, the most of important of which is our proposal to introduce a 'Right to Data'. A Right to Data means that the public can request and receive government data sets, which they feel will be socially or economically useful.

To open up government spending to public scrutiny, we will publish online, and in an open and standardised format, every item of central government and Quango expenditure over £25,000. Our understanding is that the data quality is currently not very good, but we want to get this done as quickly as possible, so to begin with, we will publish the government COINS database. We will publish government contracts for goods and services worth over £25,000 in full, including all performance indicators, break clauses and penalty measures.

To create new jobs and enable more small businesses to bid for government contracts, we will also publish all procurement tender documents for contracts worth over £10,000 online and make it accessible, free of charge.

<h2>Summary</h2>

Together, we believe these policies will usher in a new era of open government, a government which is transparent about how it works, encourages new and innovative industries and is efficient in spending taxpayers' money. We want to send a strong signal that both the government and Britain are open for business.

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