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.   

Each generation re-invents History in its own image. At school in the 1950s and 1960s I was told that the march of time led inexorably to the rise of the Nation State - Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and then Argentina, Brazil, Chile to Thailand and Vietnam. Then in the 1970s the Marxists took over the curriculum and "progressive" had a different meaning.

It took me a long time to get round to begin reading Edward Gibbon's account of the attempts to turn-round a corrupt and heartless regime, ruled by welfare and reality TV (alias bread and circuses) - in the face of increasingly successful attempts by the provinces to avoid the fate of Judea when it tried to cut the Roman tax take.

Will the Jedi be able to help the coalition to manage a transition to "the new localism", with democratically accountable, citizen-centric service delivery in line with the needs of local communities?  Or will the pain of change lead to a re-run of "The Empire Strikes Back"?  And where will the heart of Empire be: Whitehall, Brussels, Mountain View?  

 

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So Anthony Perkins is back at the Bates Motel ...

Let's just think about last time:

• From 1997 to 2010, the governing party had an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons.

• Transformational government had the backing of the European Commission.

• There were no evident financial constraints, the budget was unlimited.

• There were no staff constraints or at least, where there were, the shortfall was made up with consultants.

• There was unstinting assistance from IT industry bodies and standards organisations.

• Any number of think tanks produced reams of supportive papers and hosted agreeable talkathons and other boondoggles.

• The national press were usually uninterested and sometimes mildly in support.

• The Cabinet Office were in there, along with DWP, the Department of Health and the Department for Education. And the Home Office reckoned they were right at the heart of transformational government with their National Identity Service.

• There was no opposition from local government or from the devolved administrations.

All that, and yet transformational government failed? For 13 years and with an open goal, they couldn't put the ball away?

How did they fail? With all 13 trumps, Watmore could they possibly need? What powers of reaction stood in their way? What powers of reaction were there?

Unless old Norman can answer those questions, there is no reason to believe that a second attempt is more likely to succeed than the first.

"13 years of failure should be enough evidence that the Whitehall/Brussels/Mountain View approach to transformational government doesn't work" – that kind of logic should get you a pass at GCSE science.

For the A-level, how about thinking of an alternative? "Localism", Philip suggests – seems like a pretty good idea, worth a try.

So how do we organise it? How do we manage it from the centre? Who's in charge? Oh, wait a minute ...

So Anthony Perkins is back at the Bates Motel ...

Let's just think about last time:

• From 1997 to 2010, the governing party had an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons.

• Transformational government had the backing of the European Commission.

• There were no evident financial constraints, the budget was unlimited.

• There were no staff constraints or at least, where there were, the shortfall was made up with consultants.

• There was unstinting assistance from IT industry bodies and standards organisations.

• Any number of think tanks produced reams of supportive papers and hosted agreeable talkathons and other boondoggles.

• The national press were usually uninterested and sometimes mildly in support.

• The Cabinet Office were in there, along with DWP, the Department of Health and the Department for Education. And the Home Office reckoned they were right at the heart of transformational government with their National Identity Service.

• There was no opposition from local government or from the devolved administrations.

All that, and yet transformational government failed? For 13 years and with an open goal, they (the Cabinet Office et al) couldn't put the ball away?

How did they fail? With all 13 trumps, Watmore could they possibly need? What powers of reaction stood in their way? What powers of reaction were there?

Unless old Norman can answer those questions, there is no reason to believe that a second attempt is more likely to succeed than the first.

"13 years of failure should be enough evidence that the Whitehall/Brussels/Mountain View approach to transformational government doesn't work" – that kind of logic should get you a pass at GCSE science.

For the A-level, how about thinking of an alternative? "Localism", Philip suggests – seems like a pretty good idea, worth a try.

So how do we organise it? How do we manage it from the centre? Who's in charge? Oh, wait a minute ...

The Identity & Passport Service failed laughably to get ID cards off the ground. James Hall has walked the plank. How safe is his boss, Sir David Normington?

P.25 of Safeguarding Identity has a pretty picture of the Committees involved. Transformational government is the objective. The Home Office modestly put themselves at the centre of transformational government and IPS at the centre of the Home Office effort. Do those committees still meet? Do the CIOs and CTOs and the Public Sector Reform Group still report to Duncan Hine (Integrity & Security, IPS) and to Sir David? And does the Home Secretary still chair the Identity Working group? Is there still an Identity Working Group?

If so, perhaps the Home Office are still in control (if they ever were, if Safeguarding Identity isn't just self-important self-deception). If not, where is the new centre of transformational government?

IPS are presumably now a dead duck, transformational government-wise. They can issue passports and births, deaths and marriage certificates, but they can't be at the centre of operations any more, not with their record of unqualified failure.

The UK Border Agency had a lot more success than IPS. "Success" in terms of transformational government, that is. Are they at the centre? Or one of the centres?

Anyone know? Or know how to find out? Philip?

Comment from Philip Virgo:

The simple answer is that all programmes without a direct business benefit are due for the chop. That is likely to include most of HMGs competing ID systems and databases - with the survivors, hopefully the best, being "encouraged" to inter-operate, including co-operation on cleansing to reduce fraud.

Hence the focus of the Information Society Alliance on Information and Identity Governance - particularly the governance of sharing across boundaries: international (because of all that data held in Seattle, Mountain View and on Darknet) as well as inter-departmental.

Who will drive the process of rationalisations and inter-operation?

Short term - the need for both central and local government to make rapid progress in using shared services to cut out the 70% or more of duplicated effort in this space. It is unclear whether Central and Local government will make the running.

Long term - the main financial services players - as the only ones with needs, budgets and expertise. But we still face a period of rearguard action by governments (US as well as UK) seeking to avoid the inevitable and techies seeking to promote wizzie solutions.

What might change that process? A horrendous terrorist incident or three.

Thank you very much for the reply, Philip.

The reason I asked the questions is that I don't know the answers. I'm feeling my way.

Your answers may be correct. Two points, though:

1. The Identity & Passport Service had an impact assessment of the Identity Documents Bill ready for signature by Damian Green MP on 29 May 2010, extraordinarily efficient by their standards. In fact, lightning. P.2 says that the estimated benefit of the National Identity Service was £6 billion. IPS aren't very good at these business cases. Appendix 6 of the NAO's report on ePassports took IPS to pieces. According to IPS, ePassports would cost the UK between £100 million and £344 million. Or save us £2 billion. Or only £89 million. Or maybe they would cost us £98 million. They're not very good at business cases. But they have such shamelessly thick hides they might still pretend that there is a £6 billion benefit to ID cards which the coalition government has foolishly given up.

2. What might change that process? A horrendous terrorist incident or three. When? Please, when are people going to stop pretending that there is a connection between transformational government and a successful defence against terrorism?

Philip VIrgo Comment: I do not say that the anti-terrorist link is made in national way. My understanding is, however, that the Baader Meinhof were not found using ID Cards (national or local) but by an exercise colating addresses used in ad hoc benefit claims with addresses that had no registered residents.

Philip VIrgo Comment: I do not say that the anti-terrorist link is made in [rational] way. My understanding is, however, that the Baader Meinhof were not found using ID Cards (national or local) but by an exercise colating addresses used in ad hoc benefit claims with addresses that had no registered residents.

"The Baader-Meinhof gang were caught by collating addresses given on benefits claims with non-residential addresses therefore we have to employ Mr Watmore, who couldn't even run the Football Association and I bet Andersens/Accenture are pleased he's not on their books any more, and give every consultant in the world a well-paid job destroying the dignity of the state"? As you say, with commendable understatement, it isn't rational.

It also isn't true. At least it's not the whole truth. The Baader-Meinhof gang was caught in all sorts of different ways, please see particularly this ghastly website, largely involving ordinary citizens and front-line public servants being sensibly vigilant.

Are you suggesting that Sir David Normington approaches the Home Secretary with a daft idea for a statutory instrument authorising yet another bit of data-sharing, the Home Secretary remonstrates, saying surely this is going a bit too far, Sir David says "remember Baader-Meinhof, Minister" and bang goes another buttress in the wall round our dignity?

This is the work of Bertholt Brecht, not a mature and confident democracy.

If we're going to catch the transformational government gang, Philip, I suggest that we collate all those politicians and civil servants drawing a salary, and their consultants, against a list of gullible people who are utterly credulous in the face of a smooth-talking salesman. Remove them, and government might indeed be transformed.

Comment Philip VIrgo: given that the anti-terrorist operations are also facing 25% budget cuts and that the coalition is supposedly committed to cutting its consultancy bills by even more, I wonder if your concerns are not, perhaps driven just the tineist bit, by a concern that No2ID may also become redundant - if the various databases are either scrapped or published so that they they can be cleaned up under democratic control.

I fear you will not be - because unless the coalition succeeds in bringing public finances under control without runaway inflation and mass unemployment - we face the pre-conditions for a new totalitarianism, built around the data culled from our Internet searches and social networking gossip rather than that collected by the state.

... I wonder if your concerns are not, perhaps driven just the tineist bit, by a concern that No2ID may also become redundant – an intelligent guess, but wrong.

1. I am not a member of No2ID.
2. There haven't been enough ashen-faced staff trooping, Lehman-style, out of Marsham St and Globe House carrying all their worldly possessions in a black plastic bag.
3. Too many contracts haven't been cancelled (IBM, CSC, Sagem Sécurité).
4. Sometimes I'm tidy-minded. The end of the National Identity Scheme/Service is still untidy.

... we face the pre-conditions for a new totalitarianism, built around the data culled from our Internet searches and social networking gossip rather than that collected by the state – maybe. Don't forget our mobile phone data. And our bank account data. (I know you haven't forgotten.)

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Philip Virgo published on July 1, 2010 9:06 AM.

The US National Identity strategy: Ask the People was the previous entry in this blog.

The power of a good spoof: "Dear Minister, I am in the process of renewing my passport" is the next entry in this blog.

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