It is interesting how, in the Internet Age, with supposed transparency, reality can be obscured. I would be be intersted in the comments of readers more expert than I, but my reading of the IPSA recommendations on MPs pay and conditions is the cost of the overall package, (including some trimming of expenses and more radical changes to pension plans to bring them into line with others in the public sector), is almost unchanged.
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The effect of our idiosyncratic tax system is, however, that the net value of that package to MPs will fall, perhaps by as much as 4 – 5% (depending on individual circumstances). Those in the private sector might complain that the pension package, like those for most senior public sector and quango employees, will still be too generous – but that is a different argument.
What is, however, more interesting, given the focus of this blog, is that the true nature of the changes announced is obscured by the nature of the press cover. Is that accidental or deliberate? What does it say about the supposed value of “transparency” and the role of the Internet in facilitating open debate, as opposed to reinforcing prejudice? Is it in no-one’s interest to look at the facts behind the prejudice?
Now let us apply that same perspective to the question of whether Alan Rusbridger and the Guardian or Sir David Omand and GCHQ is the bigger net threat to “The English way of Life”. I say English because the Welsh, Scots and Irish have different value set. I happen to have a great respect for Kevin Cahill (who is attempting to sue the NSA for Data Protection offences). But were I on the other side I would not contest the case and argue that the fine should be in line with the NSA’s UK revenues and net contribution to the protection of the UK – i.e. nominal. I would argue that there is a better case against Edward Snowden’s employer for failing to edquately vet or supervise him or against the Guardian – for facilitating the transfer of our personal information to Russia and China.
The overall post-Snowden situation raises profound issues around the privatisation of essential government services such as vetting and, in the UK as well as in US, about the revolving doors between public and private sectors at the top.
That brings me on to the argument of whether this Government or the last made a greater hash of delivering Public Sector IT (e.g. DWP versus the National Plan for IT in the Health Service). That is, once again, an area where public debate, as reflected over the Internet, is divorced from reality. That debate should not be about “blue bells” or “red whistles”, let alone about blame for failure. It should be about how to rebuild the underlying competance of government to deliver and, above all, how to get the IT industry, professionals and their employers, to help remedy the weaknesses instead of colluding to exploit the consequences.
There are, of course, some genuine political differences, such as whether you have more scepticism about the competance of the public sector or of market forces, but scepticism is to whether Central Government is more or less inefficient and corrupt than local government is common to both left and right. An open and competitive market should include mutuals, co-operatives and municipal enterprise, not just those with whom it is easy for the civil servants and politicians of Whitehall and Westminster to deal.