When I blogged about the UK government's open source initiative (or rather the lack of it) a couple of weeks ago. It was obvious to me - and to many of the people in the open source community that the government wasn't exactly pulling out all the stops in its attempts to cut waste in the tendering process.

I thought this was due to the dread inertia of the civil service but there's a rather more malign reason.

According to a report in Silicon.com, Phil Pavitt, recently-appointed CIO for HM Revenue and Customs, has revealed that attempts to cut government budget is positively discouraged. In a telling anecdote, he says "In my first few weeks of the job I was visited by leading members of the Cabinet Office. In that conversation with me they mentioned I am in the top purchasing club... That means you have tremendous influence on buying power, buying ideas and management and so on."I said 'If I reduce costs by 50 per cent what happens?', 'Well, you leave the club,' I was told."

That's an extraordinary tale to tell; most of us know that organisational departments hurry to spend all their allocated budget before year's end but, according to Pavitt, it seems that government's CIOs go futher than that. If he's correct - and there's been no attempt to deny his claims - then attempts to cut government spending are doomed before they even begin.

But not only that; the government's drive to reduce IT costs is revealed as a hollow desire. Just where are these savings going to come from?

So, the open source commentators who say that the government has not been enthusiastic about pursuing are completely missing the point. It's not about inertia; it's not about the influence of proprietary software companies; it's not about the perceived lack of maturity of open source companies - it's simply that those newer competitors aren't expensive enough. Those pitches proving cost savings have been going down the wrong path - it's as if they were setting off to play golf and keeping under par the whole way round, only to be told at the end of the game that the object was to take as many shots as possible.

At a time when governments are looking to cut spending, Pavitt's candour has revealed a world of Byzantine intrigue: a world where profligacy is rewarded; where innovation is frowned on and sense of public conscientiousness is shrugged aside. It's a world that bears little relation to the real world but it's a world that we're all paying for. And that's the real scandal.


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