July 2010 Archives

Is government about to be transformed?

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The Cabinet Office draft structural reform plan is curiously unambitious in some areas (for example the £6 billion savings targets set for the Efficiency and Reform Group) and  centralist in others. This implies a risk that the Return of the Jedi will indeed be followed by "The Empire Strikes Back", rather than the other way round. Thus the plan is to abolish or bring back in house those Quangos which are not technical, transparent or impartial. There appears to have been no option of removing their statutory powers and leaving them to sink or swim as self-funding co-operatives, competing to provide services valued by those running front line delivery. Instead some of these look set to fall through expensive cracks, as functions valued by no-one, as well as those which should never have be devolved, are transfered back to departments whose previous failures led to the rise of the quangocracy in the first place. 

The need to rebuild identity integrity and democratic accountability

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I have just read the report of the Association of Electoral Administrators on the future of electoral administration in the UK. We may be about to have a long overdue referendum on the choice between "first past the post" and casting our votes in order of preference (the alternative vote). But it is far more important to cleanse the UK election system, from the initial register to the processes for exposing and prosecuting malpractice and fraud (as in the stealing of local government elections).  

Task the British Broadband Corporation to deliver the Universal Service Commitment.

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Next week the Minister will invite "industry" to make suggestions on how it can help  Broadband Delivery UK, our newest Quango, to deliver the Universal Service Commitment. Two nights ago I was discussing the fate of past DTI/BIS attempts to invent new ways of addressing old problems, including with Tony Ballard, Partner, Harbottle & Lewis LLP. Tony suggested we bypass BIS, DCMS and all who wish to reinvent square wheels and build instead on one of the UK's greatest success stories. I asked if he would do a guest blog on the idea. Below is the result.

What is driving the evolution of ID policy?

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David Moss (No2ID) has just done an interesting posting to my entry on the Return of the Jedi. His assumption appears to be that because national ID cards are dead there is little or no value in using the expertise of IPS to help sort the mess that is Central Government ID policy. Just because a few rotting trees have been felled does not mean that there is light in the jungle. There is whole mass of dead wood still to be cleared as well as a carpet of weeds vying for the oxygen of publicity.  

The power of a good spoof: "Dear Minister, I am in the process of renewing my passport"

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In early 2008 I asked some-one with whom I have worked for many years, who was angry about the failure of Government to join up its data sources while pressing ahead with ID cards, to do a paper that would encapsulate his concerns.

He demurred. He had held a very senior position and did not wish to get embroiled in public controversy that might get in the way of his current activities. Eventually he agreed to do me a guest blog - provided I would not say who wrote it. I used what he sent me during the "silly season" (August) in the entry "Would you trust identity papers/card from this system". I have just received a comment from some-one who has found the result, "A letter to the minister" from "Disgusted of Tonbridge Wells" repeated, with variants, from around the anglo-saxon world. The author of the comment is concerned that the original was inaccurate (e.g. you no longer need a birth certificate to renew a passport unless you let it lapse before the new system came into being). He felt I had been irresponsible in helping spread calumnies around the world.

I have just Googled and found around 50,000 copies and variations. Most date from after the blog entry, although there is one source in March 2008. I do not know if my friend wrote the original, or found it and forwarded it. I do not intend to ask. But it is his style and I can imagine him enjoying writing it. Either way, it is good to think that it may have been "When IT meets politics" that helped spread a good spoof (the kind that draws attention to an indefensible reality) round the world.      

The return of the Jedi: the transformational government team reassembles

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The Cabinet Office has announced that Ian Watmore is to be Chief Operating Officer of the Efficiency and Reform Group, with Permanent Secretary status. Yesterday I was told that it was OK to talk again about using ICT to support "transformational government". Unfortunately the speaker was one of those who genuinely believes in centralised planning and has an intellect comparable to those of the economic planners who enabled the USSR to survive for so long. 

I would much prefer to talk about using ICT to support "the transformation of government". The success of the previous "transformational government" agenda was that it began the process of removing top-down barriers to change, allowing innovation to bubble-up from below. I am now cautiously optimistic that we really can achieve a turnaround akin to Finland (30% cuts over three years in the face of a threat to survival in the late 1990s) not just Canada. But Finland has a population the size of Yorkshire and Canada was already a "proper" Federal Government.   

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