October 2011 Archives

Lobbying Post Werrity - will we address the "real" corruption?

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The UK had a simple mechanism for preserving the probity of the its public service until Edward Heath gave permission to two senior Ministry of Defence officials to join a defence contractor without losing their pensions: loss of pension if you joined any business with which you or your colleagues had had dealings.

Heath had thought that the insights the officials would give to the suppliers would lead to added efficiency. We can now see the consequences with a defence review designed to protect procurement programmes rather than the nation and its interests.

We can see similar consequences across all the main silos of Whitehall, from Education to Health and Welfare - including, but not just, to do with regard to their IT systems.

A time of massive semi-voluntary redundancy programmes is not a good time to change the rules but in looking to clean up the probity of central government we need to take a cool look at the cacophony of pots and kettles.

The temptations on a Minister, faced by a united front of officials and the contractors they plan to join after retirement, to set up a private think-tank cum advisory team should not be under-estimated. Nor should the temptations on those he trusts to do so.

Last night I was told that the estimated attendance at the Conservative Party conference was 2000 party activitists, 1,000 journalists and 7,000 lobbyists and hangers on. We were discussing how to handle lobbyists who seek access to policy studies, i.e. not just to enable their client's Managing Director to meet a Minister to whom they have little to say and no plans for follow up with officials.

I still follow the routines I adopted after being lectured on probity, nearly forty years ago by my father, a pre-Armstong doctrine "Servant of the Crown, not just the current minister" -

Ask lobbyists to get their clients to work with their competitors and their customers to produce well researched material that will stand up to independent peer review. And suggest they offer to co-sponsor the industry conference/dinner at which the Minister responds to the resultant industry brief, while ensuring his officials know the provenance of the material in that brief.

I had been shocked, when working on the ICT-DTI- DoE "Tri-partite" study into the Computing needs of the "new" Regional Water Authorities", to discover that the officials responsible for policy had not collated the information available on the size and nature of the bodies to be brought together and the problems they would face. I organised a quick four week exercise (that was all the time I had before I needed the results) and 18 months later saw my estimates appear as "the result of a deparmental study". He told me I should not be surprised at the ignorance of officials, because of their short stay and lack of in-house research facilities, but that I should never take advantage. Instead I should build a reputation for providing accurate and reliable inputs that would stand the test of time.

I did and have survived much longer than even my allies would have predicted.

Now I am attempting to pass what I was taught to the next generation but one - including to young lobbyists who have to survive while their clients try to piss in the winds of change. I do not envy them (other than for their youth and enthusiasm). They will have it much harder than my generation.   

Joining up the fight against cybercrime: James Brokenshire's comments at the Parliament and the Internet Conference in Westminster

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On Wednesday James Brokenshire, Minister of State for Crime and Security, spoke at the launch of Fighting Fraud Together. he was hosted by the Lord Mayor of London in the Mansion House, whose comments I quoted in my previous blog.  

 

Yesterday James addressed Westminster, at the annual Parliament and the Internet Conference. This was organised by the All Party Communications Group with the support of the UK Internet Governance Forum, the Internet Service Providers Association, The Broadband Stakeholders Group,  the Parliament ICT Forum, the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) and the Internet Telephony Service Providers Association.

 

The audience was different but once again the need for genuine co-operation was at the heart of James' comments, which I reproduce below:     

Joining up the fight against on-line fraud - London is serious. Is Westminster?

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On Thursday the Lord Mayor of London, hosted the launch of Fighting Fraud Together. The press release correctly states that this is the first time government, industry representatives, voluntary groups and law enforcement agencies have joined together on a large scale to sign a joint commitment to tackle fraud, expanding and extending the successful activities that exist in different sectors and sharing fraud intelligence to prevent and disrupt the activities of fraudsters.

 

The programme brings together the Attorney General's Office, BIS, Cabinet Office, DCLG, DWP, Home Office, HMRC, MoJ and HM Treasury as well ACPO, the Association of British Insurers, The British Bankers Association, the British Chambers of Commerce, the British Retail Consortium, the Building Societies Association, the Charity Commission, the Charity Finance Director's Group, the Citizens Advice Bureau, the City of London Police, the Council of Mortgage lenders, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Federation of Small Businesses, Financial Fraud Action UK, the Financial Services Authority, the Fraud Advisory Panel, the Insurance Fraud Bureau, the Land Registry, the Law Society, the Metropolitan Police, National Council of Voluntary Organisations, the National Fraud Authority, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Serious Fraud Office, SOCA, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Telecommunications UK Fraud Forum, the UK Cards Association and Victim Support. With a fifty point action plan

 

That the launch was in the Ballroom of the Mansion House and not in Whitehall or the QE2 Centre says something about the relative status of the Cities of London and Westminster. This is for real - not just for show.

 

Fighting Fraud Together and its accompanying action plan place strong emphasis on preventing fraud through greater fraud awareness and self protection, combined with stronger government and industry prevention systems and controls. It also sets out a more effective approach to enforcement.

 

I was there because the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) groups on e-Crime and on Information and Identity Governance are addressing some of the key issues at the politicial levels, including bringing players together internationally. The groups provide first-stop-shops to join-up activities with those who are not working via the partners already involved in Fighting Fraud Together. 

 

Read the list of participants above and you will quickly realise that means most Information Society infrastructure and security suppliers, from those concerned to protect their own networks and data centres, to those supplying products and services to protect medium to large organisations. One of my retirement roles will be to help draw them in, including via the trade associations and professional bodies already in membership of the Alliance, such as the Federation of Communications, Intellect, BCS, ISACA, ISC2 and the ISSA.

 

In that context I particularly draw your attention to item 21 in the Fighting Fraud Together programme . The wording is opaque but it means organising co-operation across the boundaries of civil and criminal law, including internationally. This is central to the thinking behind the EURIM Information and Identity Governance Group, including the plans for taking a victims eye of electronic impersonation (including redress and recompense). The latter maps onto item 11 in the Fight Fraud Action plan. 

 

The multi-track approach, cutting across civil and criminal law and public and private sectors does, however, present very real difficulties for those whose mindsets were forged in law enforcement, public services or (dare I say it) the mainstream ICT industries. Hence the importance of the EURIM policy studies and scrutiny exercises that I have left to my successor, Dr Edward Phelps, and his team to progress. 

 

Please do not try to lobby me in my new role. Join EURIM and work together with your peers to help deliver the joined up policies we need in order to help use the £38 billion (see below where I quote the Lord Mayor's opening remarks) being lost to fraud to help bring about economic recovery. 

 

And remember that the cost of joining EURIM is not just your subscription it is the time you put in to help get results - or if you want results but have not got time, the extra sponsorship you put up to help EURIM employ those who will help deliver them. I will blog shortly on the plans to use structured industry support for Masters Students at leading Universities as a cost-effective way of advancing thought on difficult issues.  It looks to be a low cost win-win all round (including for those seeking to assess potential recruits for key roles !!!)  

 

 

A reply to Adrian Bridgewater - why is it called cloud computing?

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It is called "Cloud computing" because it is such a nebulous concept. It is the current state of on-line computer service bureaux offerings. But those offerings cover a wide range of services, including performance levels and guarantees, security, resilience, regulatory (un)certainty, "vulnerability" to monitoring/access: for the maze of swampy pools, secret tracks, quicksands and secret islands that lie beneath the "fog over grimpen mire". That does not mean that Cloud Services do not provide value for money. But you do need to be clear what you are paying for and what you are getting. This morning I agreed to help a highly regulated industry to produce a practitioners guide to Cloud Computing. I should add that I am not going to help draft it. I am going to ask the members of the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) to do that. I suspect that some of them (who already provide Cloud Services) will leap at the opportunity. I have also suggested that they contact Miranda Mowbray - who so brilliantly summarised what lies beneath the fog. .. I will then leave them to get on with it - oh the joys of retirement.        

A train crash waiting to happen - why it is not too late too save Unified Credits

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No wonder IT firms avoid the Party Conferences. The ill-informed criticism of technology suppliers is nearly as bad as the well-informed attacks on the consultant-driven relationships between them and their public sector customers. But we have to change reality before we can sustain a change of image. The final death of the centralised NHS IT systems will not be enough if Universal Credits go down the same track.

The comments in response to the recent Daily Telegraph editorial and news cover correctly highlight the professional concerns over the way in which the introduction of long overdue reforms are being introduced. Unfortunately the response of officials and supplier has been to close ranks with a view to getting more steam and passengers on board rather than change track. Before the Major Projects Review was published I compared the DWP "vision" for the Unified Credit with the NHS "vision" of a unified patient record  About the same time I also commented on Sir Humphrey's view of how to use agile methodology .

DWP are using "agile methodology" for a classic consultant-driven "waterfall" approach (i.e. no feedback loops in the light of practical experience) to a delayed big-bang exercise. It is intended for incremental implementation programmes. In consequence they have removed the agility and flexibilty that are its hallmarks.

More interestingly DWP has already alibied itself for failure by predicating success on the implementation of the "real-time" (again a most interesting abuse of terminology) updating of PAYE codes. I was chairman of the Real Time Club for its 40th anniversary. The attendees at the dinner included current and former civil servants for several of government's largest projects. Anything less "real time" than the updating of PAYE records is difficult to imagine.

Those in most need of the flexible support that the Universal Credit is supposed to deliver tend to lurch in and out of work with unpredictable needs and no access to government other than via a post office or mobile phone, unless a nurse or policeman points them at Citizens Advice. The expectation that they might have a PAYE code other than "emergency" (alias standard rate) is unrealistic because of the inherant delays in the people processes, especially for temporary abnd part-time workers at the far end of sub-contracting chains.  

It is not too late to move the Universal Credit to an incremental change programme, dusting off some of the many past proposals for incremental, rapid payback change that have been dismissed out-of-hand by DWP officials or their incumbent suppliers because they would distract attention from the big picture. The "only" problem is the loss of face. But that cannot be under-estimated given the allegations of what might be found before those responsible have been able to cover their tracks and take the redundancy package. 

P.S. Why are the origins and development cost of the DVLA on-line licensing system such a secret when it is such a success. It am told this is because it was so imaginative and cheap that there is a very real fear that  others might be tempted to replicate the approach and slash 90%, not just 10%, from the cost of collecting tax or paying benefit. 

 

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