TechnologyclippingIn one of the most furious rows between a section of British industry and the Tories in recent years, representatives of the IT sector and David Davis have clashed over the Tory decision to promise to scrap the ID card scheme.  The row is covered on page two of today’s FT.  John Higgins, director-general of Intellect – an umbrella organisation for IT firms, accused Mr Davis of using his industry as a "mechanism for scoring political points."  Mr Higgins also warned that the Tory approach to the issue risked increasing the future cost of public sector IT projects.  David ‘Basher’ Davis responded furiously.  Mr Higgins was accused of being "incredible", "insulting", "inappropriate", "ill-judged" and even "disingenuous."  The texts of both letters are printed below.  Mr Davis’ letter draws on his experience of chairing the Public Accounts Committee and he is clearly relishing the opportunity to hit back at the authors of badly-delivered, over-budget Whitehall IT projects.

Response to Intellect from David Davis:

"I have received your letter of 6th February.  Your claim to be "neither for, nor against the policy of introducing ID cards in the UK", given the clear commercial interest of a number of your members, is simply disingenuous.  Your dismissal of the serious objections of principle we have to ID cards as point-scoring demonstrates a failure to appreciate either the parameters of the public debate on ID cards or the depth of opposition.

I am afraid that your claim that an honest assertion of our intentions is somehow indicative of a general commercial bad faith is both incredible and insulting.

Your thinly veiled threat of penalty clauses, at taxpayer’s expense, is inappropriate and ill-judged. As the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has frequently recommended – certainly since my chairmanship – large IT projects should be segmented into several contractual phases to protect against the risks involved. I attach a copy of the PAC’s 1999 Report, ‘Improving the Delivery of Government IT Projects’, which you might benefit from reading.

We are already fully engaged with the IT sector on these issues – and in my previous role as PAC chairman I was only too familiar with the IT sector’s successes and failures in delivery of public services. You may be sure that we will have learned from those experiences."

Letter from Intellect’s Director-General John Higgins to David Davis:

"I have read with concern your pledge that an incoming Conservative Government would cancel the ID card scheme.  On behalf of the community of supplier companies operating in the public sector market, I would like to draw your attention to the ramifications of the position you have taken.

Firstly, it is important to state that the UK technology industry is neither for, nor against the policy of introducing ID cards in the UK.  This public policy debate took place and was voted upon in Parliament.  As an industry we are now working hard with the Identity and Passport Service to ensure that the ID cards procurement results in solutions which are practical and deliverable.  To this end, we believe it is wholly inappropriate for the industry to be used as a mechanism for scoring political points. 

Moreover, it is highly likely that the manner of this intervention will undermine the confidence of the supplier community in any future Conservative Government honouring other contractual commitments which may have been entered into by previous administrations.  It will potentially make companies wary of entering into any public sector contracts at all.  Such a fall in confidence would inevitably affect business decisions companies make about investing in UK Plc generally. 

There will also be more practical ramifications of the stance you have taken on this issue.  Companies selling into the public sector market will quite reasonably seek to protect themselves in case a future Government revokes a contract upon coming to power.  This may result suppliers seeking stronger break clauses in discussions with Government as they seek to protect themselves.  This could consequently result in a less favourable environment for the taxpayer. 

I am sure that you appreciate the important role the technology sector has to play in the reform of public services in the UK.  Whether you look at healthcare, transport, social security or education, technology is at the heart of delivering any public policy objectives of this and future Governments. 

With this in mind, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to meet with Intellect and its members who work in the public sector market.  It is critical for you to work with Intellect to broker relations with these companies who contribute greatly to the UK’s prosperity.  Engagement with Intellect’s members will help you understand the progress suppliers have made around the transformational government agenda as well as the issues which remain today.  Please also be aware that as we believe this issue is in the public interest, we have made this response public."