Conflict of interest forces Open Standards consultation extension
The Cabinet Office has confirmed that the consultation on Open Standards which was due to close next week has now been extended by a month after the facilitator of a round table discussion was discovered to have been directly advising Microsoft on the Open Standards consultation. The roundtable events have been held to bring opinions together and as a complementary source of input to the consultation, alongside the email, post and online methods for offering opinions on the government's proposals.
According to the Cabinet Office, Dr Andrew Hopkirk facilitated a 4 April 2012 roundtable around "Competition and European Interaction". Hopkirk, described as "a respected advocate for 'openness and interoperability of systems, of people, processes and information technologies'", was engaged by the Cabinet Office as a facilitator on a pro bono basis.
The meeting itself was considered somewhat controversial after an article in Computer Weekly by Mark Ballard claimed that open source representatives had not been invited and that the discussions were centred around proprietary vendors. Dr Hopkirk responded to Ballard's article with a report on the event which some attendees thought did not reflect the event. Hopkirk commented to them that "I'm sure Cabinet Office is more than capable of balancing off the size/shape/weight/quality of the evidence contributions it receives".
The Cabinet Office says it was aware of Hopkirk's representing the National Computing Centre on Microsoft's Interoperability Executive Customer Council but that he did not declare that he was advising Microsoft directly. When asked for an explanation, Dr Hopkirk said he had "not been paid to specifically write their response to the Open Standards consultation but he is engaged to help them tease out the issues". The Cabinet Office says though that this "could be seen as a clear conflict of interest".
Dr Hopkirk points to a statement on his event report that he maintains "a strict firewall between the different activities I am engaged in from time to time" and that "as an independent consultant" he does "have a longstanding relationship with Microsoft" on the basis of his being consistently neutral. He also says he supports open markets, open standards and free/open source software and that he has not been asked to support any client brief or position.
The Cabinet Office is apparently not taking any chances with its consultation saying that "Any outcomes from the original roundtable discussion will be discounted in the consultation responses and we will rerun that session and give time for people to prepare for it". They will run a teleconference for the new session to encourage wider participation. The entire consultation is being extended by a month and will now formally close for submissions on Monday 4 June 2012.