The government's IT strategy is being undermined by an over-reliance on large suppliers and a failure to retain skilled staff, a House of Commons committee has heard.
The Public Administration Committee was hearing evidence from a select group of IT experts as it gathers evidence for a report on the way in which the government deals with the procurement and management of IT projects.
Professor Helen Margetts from the Oxford Internet Institute told the panel that the government's approach to technology is far behind other nations she has studied, such as Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, The Netherlands and the US.
Margetts explained, for example, that the UK persists in failing to use the benefits SMEs can bring to contracts, and instead finds itself locked into long-term contracts with a small number of large vendors over and over again.
"The key distinguishing feature [compared to the other nations] was ... the concentration of the market. It's far more concentrated, with a small number of suppliers getting the bulk of contracts, than any of the other countries," she said.
"US contracting legislation mandates the involvement of smaller companies in contracts, rather than relying on small numbers of very large suppliers."
When Margetts was asked by the panel chairman and Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin whether she felt that following the US system would just create more bureaucracy, she admitted this could be the case but was adamant such a system was necessary.
"It's completely essential if you want to move towards a more innovative environment," she said.
Margetts added that another reason why the UK government performs so badly compared to other nations is because it fails to hold on to skilled IT staff in-house.
"In all the others we noticed a greater effort over a sustained period to retain some expertise within government," she explained.
Co-panel member Edgar Whitley, a reader in information systems at the London School of Economics, agreed, explaining that more skilled staff is vital to the government's ability to strike competent deals.
"There's a need for expertise, in terms of procurement, to be in-house to [make the government] an intelligent customer," he added.
The comments match a report by the cross-party Institute for Government think-tank which said that the government wastes its annual £16bn IT budget because of its failure at the contracting level, often locking itself into over-long contracts.
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