My secret Government interview: will it now be published?

A little while back I was interviewed as part of a Gateway review into one of the Government’s IT projects. It was for the CORE electoral register project, the successor to LASER, which was originally due to be delivered in the Autumn of 2001. Nearly a decade, and an awful lot of money, on the project still hasn’t been delivered.

Whilst it is by no means in the NHS or ID cards league, it is still in its own way a good example of how Government IT projects can go on and on and on without delivering the goods. It’s also seen the same ground gone over again and again. Across the different Gateway, department and Electoral Commission reviews, I’ve answered the same sorts of questions (on behalf of the Liberal Democrats) numerous times.

There was even one occasion where someone moved from working for one of these bodies to another, and so ended up asking me the same questions twice – once for each!

All that has given me some interest in the Government’s blanket rule of secrecy over Gateway reviews and the way that the evidence they collect is largely disposed of after the review. That adds to the overall going round in circles and repetition because the information gathered can’t then be fully used subsequently.

The idea, too, that what I said in an interview is so sensitive that it has to be exempted from Freedom of Information requests and the interview notes destroyed makes the interview sound far more interesting than it was. I doubt any terrorist would benefit from knowing my views on the merits of BS7666 and how BFPO addresses should be handled. (Perhaps if you read my words backwards in French a mysterious message revealing the keys to the nation’s nuclear deterrent emerges?)

So good news from Computer Week:

The government’s policy on Gateway reviews is to keep them confidential. All copies of a review are shredded, with the supporting material, to ensure only two reports remain – one for the Treasury’s Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and the other for the project’s senior responsible owner.

As the owner of the Gateway review scheme, the OGC had only ever published two initial reports on the ID cards scheme, and then after a three-year legal battle which involved a hearing at the High Court.

Now Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, has ordered the release of the results and recommendations of 23 Gateway reviews, including some on projects that the government says are in a “state of ongoing policy development”.

I believe my interview will be covered by this, though if anyone has the full list of 23 do let me know.

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