The return of the Jedi: the transformational government team reassembles

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?