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UK government CTO Liam Maxwell: the competition nut

Diginomica - “I always get people saying ‘he’s an open source nut’, or ‘he’s an SME nut’. I’m not actually, I’m a competition nut. This is about enabling competition.”

This is what government chief technology officer Liam Maxwell lives by at the moment – creating a competitive public sector. He believes that if there is competition in the UK public sector’s supplier base, barriers to entry will drop, costs will fall, innovation will be introduced and ultimately the tax payer will be getting a much better deal.

Basic economic theory though right? Well, you’d think so, but it’s a mantra central government has failed to live by in years gone by and Maxwell knows it. Departments have previously relied upon a handful of suppliers – which have since become known as the infamous oligopoly – and the result is multi-billion pound projects that have either failed miserably or taken so long to spec out and deliver that once they were live, the technology was out of date.

One of the more recent controls that the Cabinet Office has put in place – which is Maxwell’s Whitehall home, working within the Government Digital Service (GDS) – is a number of ‘red lines’. Specifically for central government IT contracts, the most important red line states that no IT contract will be allowed to be worth more than £100 million in value. Given that departments are still carrying out multi-billion IT projects (e.g. Universal Credit – which is going very well, as we all know), how easy an adjustment is this going to be for Whitehall? In fact when I suggested to Maxwell that perhaps £100 million was possibly a bit on the low side, he wasn’t worried…