The government has used the launch of the third G-Cloud framework to adopt a cloud first policy, claiming that the public cloud should be the first option considered by public sector buyers of IT products and services.

G-Cloud iii is the third iteration of the government's programme to adopt cloud-based services, which now has some 708 companies signed up - over 80 percent of which are SMEs. This is 368 more firms compared to the second framework.

However, two of the biggest international public cloud players in the market - Amazon Web Services and Google - are still absent from the latest list of suppliers. The absence of the cloud giants has brought criticism in the past from industry commentators whom claim that it undermines the programme's credibility and has been labelled a 'ghetto for SMEs'.

"Sales from G-Cloud are rising steadily, with cumulative spend now over £18 million - two-thirds of it with SMEs. This is still small relative to overall government IT spend, and the transition to widespread purchasing of IT services as a commodity won't happen overnight," said G-Cloud Programme Director Denise McDonagh.

"The adoption of a Cloud First policy will give added impetus for Whitehall and the wider public sector to move in this direction - complementing our ongoing work to encourage Cloud adoption and to help buyers adapt to this way of purchasing IT, which is already showing results."

She added: "Off-the-shelf products from the Cloud can be up to 30% of the cost of bespoke solutions. Today's launch of an expanded G-Cloud framework, with more companies offering an even greater range of products and services, will only enhance the cost and innovation benefits of a more competitive marketplace."

The Cabinet Office has now said that public sector organisations should consider and fully evaluate potential Cloud solutions first before they consider any other option. This approach has now been mandated to central government and strongly recommended to the wider public sector.

However, departments will still be able to choose an alternative to the cloud if they can demonstrate that it offers better value for money. Computerworld UK contacted the Cabinet Office to establish how exactly this assessment process is going to work, but a spokesman was only able to say that departments will have to 'present their case' with 'transition plans and pipelines', but was unable to confirm who exactly this information would be presented to.

G-Cloud is one prong in a diverse government strategy to break down the public sector's traditional approach to IT, where it wants to move away from handing cumbersome contracts to a handful of IT suppliers some have whom have been associated with failed projects. It is also attempting to develop services with an agile approach and create easy to use digital services for the public.

A new version of Cloudstore, the online catalogue for the G-Cloud products, will also go live today, which will hopefully appease critics that branded the previous website as difficult to use and unintuitive.

"G-Cloud brings a step change in the way government buys IT. It's quicker, cheaper and more competitive, open to a wider range of companies, including a majority of SMEs, and offers more choice and innovation," said minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude.

"Many government departments already use G-Cloud, but IT costs are still too high. One way we can reduce them is to accelerate the adoption of Cloud across the public sector to maximise its benefits. The Cloud First policy will embed the skills a modern civil service needs to meet the demands of 21st-century digital government and help us get ahead in the global race."