Accurate, but friendly fire from LibDem Dragons in Bournemouth

The industry presentations at the EURIM Information Society Policy Dragon’s Den at the LibDem Party Conference attracted some obvious, but seldom answered, questions from Parliamentary Candidates – beginning with: “Public Sector ICT spend is unpopular – why shouldn’t that £16 billion or so a year be the first target for cuts?



Dr David Butler from Atkins replied that the bigger issue was to learn from the successes as well as the failures – particularly the need for clarity and continuity of objectives, leadership and direction from the top. These were the critical factors behind success. He also summarised the seven causes of failure identified by the National Audit Offuce  


Sue Doughty, a former senior IT project manager, LibDem MP and Candidate for Guildford, pointed out the need to rebuild the professionalism of the Civil Service, particularly the training and career development paths for those in charge of planning and specification.


Alan Window, chair of LibDems On-line and a GP, commented on the confusion of objectives and very large and over ambitious projects which made it difficult to differentiate success in delivering genuine service improvements in some areas but not in others. 


Alan Bullion, Candidate for Sevenoaks, picked up a comment by a Councillor from Somerset US, contrasting UK supplier behaviour with that in the US, where bidders publicise what they expect to deliver if they won the bid and then issue their own reports on progress.


Carol Woods, candidate for the City of Durham, frustrated by her experiences of poor advice and support when she developed an inter-active website for her own business, pointed out that IT was just a tool. We could not say whether a project was a success or a failure if we did not know what the objective was in the first place.


Chair-dragon Alan Beddow, candidate for Warwick and another IT professional concluded the cross examination with the conclusion that the industry needed to do a much better job of putting its messages into political context.


Phil Kingsland of Nominet was then asked whether the Internet Governance Forum was just another United Nations, of no interest to electors. He responded that with society becoming critically dependent on on-line services, MPs can make a positive difference to the lives of people through engaging in debate and encouraging partnerships and coalitions that help deliver better access, child protection, prevention of fraud or other abuse.


Sue Doughty raised the issues of enforcement, including with regard to blogging witch-hunts based on false accusations and the transition of bullying from playground and workplace to social networks. How could you, should you report? Where were the resources to take action? There are no police resources to deal with smaller e-crimes and fraud is still a great challenge


Allan Bullion commented on “the need to balance the freedom to speak about whatever you want online and ensuring protection from bad online behaviour.”


The conclusion was that the talking shop status of the Internet Governance both a strength and a weakness. It was the best way forward but that was not a politically attractive message. Better to welcome and help publicise good practice, as with the Nominet Awards, so as to avoid getting caught up in “something must be done” campaign.


I then said that most other issues would be irrelevant unless the UK can create, attract and retain the wealth-creating jobs of the future. EURIM had produced a paper titled A Flourishing Innovation Economy which highlighted how easily important knowledge based businesses can relocate out of the UK. Candidates should take out Associate Membership of EURIM and use the material produced during the exercises to update that report in their own campaigns.


Sue Doughty responded with her own experience of the difficulty of getting local IT employers to raise their regulatory or planning problems so that these could be addressed via mainstream political channels. They preferred to keep quiet and tiptoe away, perhaps to another part of the country or, more likely, another part of the world, or to work via trade associations with officials. Either way, the result led to a failure of political awareness of the damage being done.


It was agreed that this was a difficult area but several candidates were seriously interested in any recommendations arising from the planned update of the EURIM paper.


Summing up at the end of the Den, Chair-Dragon Allan Beddow gave priority to the need to address the problem of negative spin, whereby ICT projects suffered from publicity for their problems rather than their successes.   


The next policy Dragons Den is in Brighton on the 30th September, starting at 12.30 in meeting room 3 of the Hilton Hotel. The Dragons will include Charlotte MacKenzie (Labour candidate for Truro and Falmouth), Ian Saunders (Beverley and Holderness), Jordan Newell (Colchester), Julian Ware Lane (Castle Point), Mike Robb (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Paul Kenny (Boston and Skegness) and Hamish Sandison (Monmouth and also an industry members of the EURIM Council. The Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasuary as well as Minister for Digital Britain, plans to attend for part of the Den. SO does The Rt Hon Alun Michael who chairs both the UK Internet Governance Forum and the new Tripartite E Crime Initiative.