It’s a bright, sunny morning. Finally, we have a new government. I’m excited. I’ve a strong sense that a Conservative-Liberal coalition could be the best possible election outcome for the UK: a strong economy coupled with a commitment to overturn the inefficiencies and centralisation of 13 years of Labour, but tempered by the humility and introspection that will be forced upon the government by the Liberal Democrat influence. This could work really well if they commit to collaborating. But what should they now do about privacy, identity and consent?
Fortunately, this is one of the areas in which the two parties find common ground, and in fact it may be one of the first policy actions taken by the coalition since they will want to be seen as decisive. The first announcements are likely to be the cancellation of the Identity Cards programme and the ContactPoint database; quick, easy decisions that will save money and tear down one of the pillars of Labour’s centralisation policies. Cynics say that the government will shy away from destroying the National Identity Register because of its complex linkages into other systems, and the supposedly watertight contracts that are in place with key vendors. I say watch this space, there’s a strategy prepared to deal with those issues.
Next, we will see the government order a detailed review of spending across public service. How many computers does the government own? You don’t know? Well, neither does the government. Nor how many systems it operates, contractors it employs, or contracts it has signed. It’s time to get a proper view of what’s in place. And then it’s time to publish that view, and details of all spending thereafter. Greater transparency is a cornerstone of both parties’ manifestos, so I can’t imagine the two parties disagreeing on that.
Then there will be a commitment to a much greater reform of government IT. We’re going to see the end of the current status quo, in which a handful of massive SIs control nearly all government IT spending, and instead the market will be opened up by demanding open source standards and technologies, capping contract values, and publishing values and details of all contracts. A few naysayers have suggested this would be a bad thing. Rubbish. It will spread public spending across a much broader range of SMEs rather than allowing a few companies to hog it for themselves.
The Digital Economy Act is unfortunately likely to end up on the back burner, at least for a few months. It’s an appalling bit of legislation, but the government will want to deal with issues of economy, education and defence before it starts tackling the mess that the major record companies talked us into.
And then we have the longer-term reform of the civil liberties agenda. Both parties are committed to a range of fundamental reforms to protect privacy, control libel laws, protect liberties and ensure a new vein of common sense runs through government. These changes won’t happen quickly, but they will be protect us all from a repeat of the ridiculous attitudes of recent years.
As I say, it’s a bright, sunny morning. Looking out the window, I see it’s rather nice out there too.