Thought for the day: The government's IT spending machine

Chancellor Gordon Brown is scapegoating the IT industry for the global economic downturn. Time he took a look at his own spending...

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Chancellor Gordon Brown is scapegoating the IT industry for the global economic downturn. It's time he took a look at his own spending plans, says Simon Moores.



Every now and then, a week comes along which encourages a wry smile at the awful seriousness of the IT industry. My own started on Sunday, watching Chancellor Gordon Brown being interviewed by a doddery and ever so humble David Frost.

Brown cheerfully identified the IT industry as the villain behind the present global recession. Ignoring Frost’s mumbled plea for common sense, he insisted, for reasons of fiscal prudence, that he had to raise National Insurance contributions, to fund the “expensive new technology” for the National Health Service.

Of course, any of us working in IT suspects that this has very little to do with doctors and nurses and rather more to do with "joining up" the eight very expensive administrative managers required to support every 10 underpaid nurses.

The Frost interview followed a survey last week of electronic public services in Europe, conducted by Cap Gemini Ernst & Young on behalf of the European Commission. This claims that European e-societies are making good progress in the provision of online services but could do better. No surprises there.

Here in the UK, we were recently claiming that while the delivery and speed of both our national cricket team and health service could be improved, we were, after all, leaders in the development of transactional e-government, setting the run rate for other governments to follow.

Unfortunately, according to the new survey, we’ve been overtaken by Ireland and Sweden, neither one a cricketing nation but both offering a better pace of delivery when it comes to offering transactional services online.

It’s interesting that amid all the talk of the citizen as "customer’, the report says a gap is appearing between online public services aimed at businesses and those aimed at citizens. In other words and from a European perspective, more effort is being devoted to the provision of services to business than services to people.

So while Britain glows white hot on the customer-oriented service message, even if the customers aren’t particularly interested in what it has to offer, Euroland would rather maintain a long public service tradition, which involves keeping its citizens at arm's length to maintain the best Kafkaesque traditions of government in countries like France and Germany.

But the question on the minds of most people echoes that which used to be asked in Russia in the bad old days before Glasnost. When will we achieve "Perfect Communism”?

Three years into this Parliament, does anyone believe that spending an extra few billion on NHS technology, or another few hundred million on giving every civil servant a laptop, will make a visible difference to the quality and cost of public services. Or, in our race to find a silver bullet, are we losing touch with common sense?

 What's your view?
Will chucking money at IT make any real difference to public services? Simon will be discussing the issues at the European Parliament building next Monday and welcomes your views. Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.

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