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UK needs debate on open source, not political opportunismMatthew Aslett, January 28, 2009 @ 6:26 am ET
The UK’s Conservative Party has repeated its position that the use of open source software by central government could save the UK Government at least £600m per year.
There are doubts, however, as there were when David Cameron talked up open source software in April last year, as to whether the party really “gets” open source, or is just taking an opportunity to take a dig at the Labour government.
Writing in The Inquirer, Mark Ballard notes that this is the third time the Tories have talked up open source without actually committing to policy. He also points out some significant holes in the party’s story on the series of events.
The Conservative party states:
“In March last year, the Shadow Chancellor invited Dr. [Mark] Thompson, of the Judge Business School at Cambridge University, to develop independent recommendations to provide a better deal for taxpayers.”
However, as The Inquirer notes:
“Thompson delivered his report to Osborne in 2007, a full year before the date Osborne said that he requested it… Thompson told the INQ yesterday that the report had been revised a number of times in the last two years, but the key recommendations remained the same as they were in 2007: “I made the recommendations in 2007. I thought they’d gone quiet on it. The recommendations are largely the same,” he said.”
It appears that by “March last year” The Conservatives are referring to March 2007, when Osbourne publicly asked Thompson to advise the party. However, the figure of £600m was cited by Osbourne even as he apparently requested the report that produced that statistic.
In fact, it appears that the basis for the £600m figures is calculations performed under the current Labour government. As The Inquirer notes:
“Thompson said the figure was one of his recommendations. More amusing still, the £600 million figure was based on calculations already made by John Suffolk, the government’s chief information officer.”
So why is the Conservative Paty bringing it up again now? As Mike Simons at Computerworld UK points out:
“The Tories couldn’t have picked a better day to push out their report. The latest Public Accounts Committee publication on health service IT paints a picture as bad as even the most pessimistic of us feared it would be, when the project was launched.”
The UK deserves a proper debate about the merits of using open source software for government projects, not opportunistic point-scoring based on two-year-old data.
Maybe I’m just picking hairs. After all, shouldn’t we be pleased that this potential saving is being discussed at all? Perhaps we should be grateful that the Conservative Party is putting open source on the agenda.
However it seems to me that while the Conservative Party is busy trying to score points against the Labour party and claim ownership of statistics and reports that it has had no influence on, it is missing a fundamental question that should be asked about the use of open source in this country: why hasn’t the Labour party acted on the calculations of its own CIO to reduce government spending through the use of open source?
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