Gateway reviews are shrouded in secrecy.They shouldn't be, says Lyn Whitfield

Published: 16/01/2003, Volume II3, No. 5838 Page 1

The Gateway reviews run by the Office of Government Commerce are, it is generally agreed, a very good thing.

Shame, then, that the process is so secretive. It is possible to glean some information about the 'gates' through which major procurements must pass, but impossible to find out how any one project is faring.

Intentionally so, says OGC - if the process wasn't confidential, it wouldn't be effective.People would not reveal sensitive information or present a balanced picture of the latest developments.

This argument is trotted out whenever people who are paid and spend public money find they do not fancy public scrutiny. It is always bogus.There are well-established rules for dealing with commercial information and raw nerves.The OGC approach - do not even confirm you are looking at a project - will not do.

Apart from being wrong in principle, there are plenty of people outside the process who need to know what is happening.

Last November, e-mail service e-HealthInsider reported that integrated care records services had failed to pass Gate 1.Newspapers decided this was a 'major setback' for modernisation.Yet weeks later, ICRS mysteriously passed.

There are real problems with electronic records at the moment.Nobody knows what to do because the vision is not clear.Vendors are increasingly frustrated (see below).The last thing we need is a Gateway review system from which news of defeat and victory occasionally reaches the troops, through a fog of secrecy.