Thought for the day:Public sector enemy number one?

Hard-hitting IT commentator Dr Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day."Internet threat to 800,000 in...

Hard-hitting IT commentator Dr Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day."Internet threat to 800,000 in public jobs," screams the newspaper headline. "E-envoy says that a fifth of public servants could lose their jobs over the next ten years because the Internet will make them redundant."

The public sector is following in the private sector's footsteps. Take banking as an example; first there was the arrival of ATM machines in the 1980s and with them came the opportunity to downsize the workforce dramatically. Then came the arrival of online banking and banking became leaner still, with some, like Egg, disappearing into cyberspace completely.

Eventually, most of the high-street banks will disappear, and only those customers with acceptable credit ratings and Internet access will have access to banking.

What happens when Broadband Britain becomes a reality and the greater part of the population orders their supermarket shopping online? Where will the tens of thousands of people now working on checkout counters find work? Perhaps, one day, there will only be two kinds of job available - either you're a knowledge worker or a traffic warden.

The world has changed around us in the space of less than 20 years and, while technology may make our lives a little smoother, it also threatens to make the contribution of millions of relatively unskilled people irrelevant.

Twenty years ago, 43% of employment was in businesses with more than 500 people. By the beginning of the last decade it was 34% and at the turn of the millennium it was about 27%.

Many governments have a clear vision of what technology can achieve in replacing tedious, inefficient and costly public services with a citizens' Web page and a transaction engine, linked across multiple government departments. The ideal state is close to invisible government, friendly, sterile, efficient and fully automated at the same time and, when it works, much like Internet banking, people wonder how they ever managed without it.

This is bad news for employees in countries where the public sector represents a home for the overqualified and the long-term unemployable. In other, mostly English-speaking countries, a process of streamlining has been producing a frequently overworked and technology-dependent public sector for the past two decades.

Just as few of us would wish to turn back the clock to a time of queueing at the local branch of a bank to withdraw money, neither should we stand in the way of e-government. However, as a society we need to better understand "joined-up" government so we are ready to deal with any knock-on effects, such as redundancies.

How do you think IT will continue to change the public sector? >> 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 ramblings of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.

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