The Office of Government Commerce has reportedly ordered civil servants to destroy copies of Gateway review reports into government computer upgrades, to prevent information on delayed projects being leaked or disclosed under Freedom of Information legislation.

The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) Gateway Process examines government programmes and projects at key decision points in their lifecycle denies the charge saying that shredding relates to ‘version control’.

OGC Gateway reviews are carried out at key stages in a projects life cycle by independent specialists to monitor progress and assess the chances of success. Gateway reviews have been carried out on the NHS’s £12.4 billion National Programme for IT, as well as the government’s controversial ID cards scheme.

According to reports on, a recent OGC paper on a Gateway review instructs civil servants: “You must securely dispose of the report and all supporting documents immediately after delivery of the final report – which should be no later than seven days after the review.”

The magazine claims that the action is a response to a FOI request to the OGC to see gateway reviews for the ID card scheme.

The OGC have twice lost appeals to the Information Tribunal to deny this request, on the basis that they are clearly in the public interest. The case is now going to the High Court.

If the decision goes against the government, it would be the first time that Gateway reviews were made available to the public. At present only two people are given copies of the report, an OGC official and a “senior responsible owner”.

The order to destroy the reports has been condemned by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who accused the government of trying to hide details of ongoing public sector IT disasters.

Oliver Heald, the shadow cabinet office minister, said that what was going on at the OGC was proof that prime minister-elect Gordon Brown has no interest in open government.

“This demonstrates that Gordon Brown’s recent promise to ‘involve and engage people’ more in politics is just more spin. The reality is that Gordon Brown’s Treasury is probably the most secretive government department, frequently dodging questions in parliament and now issuing orders to undermine the spirit of freedom of information.”

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats’ treasury spokesperson added he will be tabling a Commons question demanding that a Treasury minister explain why the order to shred documents was given.

He said: “This is an absolute scandal. The Information Commissioner has ruled that the Government must divulge gateway reviews, which often identify major shortcomings and incompetence in IT projects. For government departments now to be destroying records, apparently under orders from the Treasury, is an absolute disgrace.”

However, the OGC said that copies were not shredded, but kept on file in the OGC offices.

An OGC spokesperson told EHI: “This is a non-story – the reference to ‘shredding’ in OGC’s Gateway Guidance refers solely to ‘version control’ to ensure that there is no confusion created between notes made by Gateway team members during work-in-progress and the final Gateway Review report.

“The final Gateway report is presented to the Senior Responsible Owner of the project concerned and a copy is always retained centrally at OGC. All project documentation is owned by the department responsible for the relevant project and is retained by that department.”