Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Mooncalf Economics Ltd

Here's a dilly of a press release issued yesterday by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills jointly with Companies House:

Free Companies House data to boost UK economy

Companies House is to make all of its digital data available free of charge.

... As a result, it will be easier for businesses and members of the public to research and scrutinise the activities and ownership of companies and connected individuals ...

It will also open up opportunities for entrepreneurs to come up with innovative ways of using the information ...

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "The government firmly believes that the best way to maximise the value to the UK economy of the information which Companies House holds, is for it to be available as open data. By making its data freely available and free of charge, Companies House is making the UK a more transparent, efficient and effective place to do business" ...

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said: "The UK is an international leader in open data because it sharpens accountability, exposes waste and informs choice over public services. It is also the raw material of our age, providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to create new data-led businesses and fuel growth as part of this government’s long-term economic plan" ...

Saturday, 5 July 2014

GDS's agile business plan

The Government Digital Service (GDS) released its business plan yesterday for the period April 2014 to March 2015.

"GOV.UK has been live since early 2012, and gets over 1.5 million visits per day, saving at least £50 million per year", they tell us.

But that's not all. In addition "We’ll deliver at least £700 million in efficiency savings and improve user experience by ...".

Further, looking at eight central government departments, "we estimate that by digitising all transactional services we could save £1.4 billion every year".

These are attractive numbers. They haven't been audited. But they're undoubtedly attractive.

You may think you've heard some of them before.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

RIP IDA – "we're building trust by being open"

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but, just in case it isn't obvious to all, IDA is dead.

IDA is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme. And it's dead.

----------

"This week a small group of people became the first users to sign in to a government service using identity assurance". That's what Steve Wreyford of GDS said. The best part of five months ago. 11 February 2014, Identity assurance goes into intensive care beta.

The beta test was a private affair. Close family only. GDS (the Government Digital Service), with just HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) and DVLA (the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency) in attendance.

GDS turned up at a funeral for conference on the mooncalf economics of identity on 9 June 2014 where they tried to attract new investors, for all the world as though IDA was still alive. The book was dutifully talked up by GDS's brokers, OIX (the Open Identity Exchange) and KPMG. They even got Francis "JFDI" Maude to say:
Rt Hon Francis Maude MP is the Cabinet Office minister and, as such, the political boss of GDS. Despite all this openness, sunlight and transparency, GDS's trusting public had still not seen IDA for themselves. Ever.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

World-famous in their own world

You may not have caught up with the news yet but yesterday evening was major.

Digital Leaders 100 revealed at London gala evening, it said in Digital by Default News. And what a gala it was, an awards ceremony with glittering prizes for all.

David Latimer and his 50 year-old
record-busting bottled terrarium
Digital leader in the Public Representative category was Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox, the salesman who set the whole digital by default revolution in motion.

The digital leader in the Central Government Official category was Public Servant of the year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE, executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and senior responsible owner of the identity assurance programme (RIP).

And digital leader in the Industry category was Skyscape, who have already "racked up" 50 percent of the burgeoning G-Cloud market.

It's unclear how these people won their awards. There's no sign of a vote being involved. Presumably it's like in the old days when a new leader of the Conservative Party would "emerge" after some mysterious-cum-religious deliberations in a smoke-filled room.

It's odd.

Take industry, for example. That's quite a big category. Sticking to the digital industries, how come Skyscape wins a digital leader award and not, say, ARM Holdings plc? ARM has total assets of £1.7 billion and they had revenues of £187 million in the first quarter of 2014 alone. Skyscape by contrast had a turnover £0.97 million in the 12 months to 31 March 2013 and they had negative net assets at the time of £0.006 billion.

Or consider central government, again quite a big category. HMRC somehow made iXBRL work. That was a gargantuan digital project. Then they made RTI work. Another Gargantua. Why aren't they a digital leader?

Sunday, 15 June 2014

UK local government – dating websites for no-brainers

This is very odd: "Liam Maxwell, the government’s chief technology officer, told PublicTechnology.net that the government would not be funding or instigating a single website platform for local government similar to the central government .gov.uk model".

Why is Mr Maxwell telling us what the government won't be doing? There are an infinite number of things that the government won't be doing. Why is he telling us about this one in particular?

Mr Maxwell's non-announcement is made in a PublicTechnology.net article, Bracken outlines G-Cloud engagement aim, about the putative savings made by the Government Digital Service (GDS) and their award-winning GOV.UK. Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE, executive director of GDS, says: "We are finding there is a lot of education to be done ... In the next Parliament we will engage more with the wider public sector on G-Cloud".

"The government will undertake more intensive engagement and education for local authorities on the G-Cloud purchasing framework from next year", as PublicTechnology.net put it.

What's going on? Why is poor old local government being singled out for re-education in Bracken's second term?

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Whitehall savings – too modest by half

The Treasury and the Cabinet Office issued a joint press release yesterday, Government unveils £14.3 billion of savings for 2013 to 2014.

It comprises a mass of figures all of which need to be audited by the NAO before anyone can know how reliable they are. As it happens, the NAO published their Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General: Whole of Government Accounts 2012-13 on the same day. They've had to qualify the Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) for 2012-13. They do not present a true and fair view:
... the Comptroller & Auditor General, Amyas Morse, has again qualified the WGA because of significant continuing issues with the quality and consistency of the data included; and has again expressed concern that bodies such as Network Rail and FE institutions continue to be excluded, even though accounting standards require their inclusion.
The ONS also may care to comment on the Treasury/Cabinet Office methodology:
The Efficiency and Reform Group has supported departments in saving £14.3 billion against a 2009 to 2010 baseline.
It's easy to show savings against a year in which there was an obvious crisis. But suppose the baseline chosen was the healthier year 1996-97?

The Treasury's Statistical bulletin: public spending statistics February 2014 shows that government total managed expenditure in real terms was £449.1 billion in 1996-97 and £673.7 billion in 2012-13 (p.19), a 50% increase. As a percentage of GDP, it has gone up from 39.0% to 42.8% in the same period (p.20). That's not a saving, but you wouldn't know it from the press release.

The ONS's Government Deficit and Debt Return, March 2014 shows that the national debt was £1.046 trillion in 2009-10 and had risen 32.5% three years later to £1.387 trillion in 2012-13 (table M1) – the Treasury/Cabinet Office press release studiously ignores the context of their modest savings, which go hand in hand with a weekly interest bill alone of £1 billion.

For DMossEsq readers there is a specific omission from this press release which demands explanation.

Individual Electoral Registration = national identity register

Individual Electoral Registration (IER) came into force in England and Wales yesterday, Tuesday 10 June 2014. DMossEsq's millions of readers have known about it for ages ...
... and a few other people may have seen Rt Hon Greg Clark MP's press release yesterday, Register to vote: new online service launched.

Mr Clark is a Minister of State at the Cabinet Office and he says that:
IER will prevent fraud by enabling government to check that everyone on the register is who they say they are. This will lead to greater trust in the legitimacy and fairness of elections.
"Prevent fraud"? That's a tall order.

"Check that everyone on the register is who they say they are"? We've always been told that we need the Government Digital Service's (GDS) identity assurance service (IDA) for that. IDA still doesn't exist. GDS just can't hack it. It's beyond them. What we've got instead is a second rate check – against the Department for Work and Pensions National Insurance number database. That's the database that included nine million people no-one could account for back in April 2007, Fraud fear as millions of NI numbers are lost – so much for identity assurance:
The nine million numbers were issued by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and are registered on its database, but officials do not know if they are held legitimately.
"This will lead to greater trust"? Mr Clark may prove to be right. Or wrong.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Whitehall on top of the cloud


Cloud computing:
"you're relinquishing a lot of control to this system"
Mike Neil, Windows Azure general manager

Anyone read The Fear Index by Robert Harris? DMossEsq has, and it's jolly exciting – "nothing spreads like fear".

It's all about an algorithm called VIXAL-4 that "learns" how to exploit its environment and ensures its survival by disarming its competitors.

VIXAL-4 was written by a physicist at CERN. He gets thrown out of CERN because his work is too dangerous so he sets up a hedge fund. Armed with huge amounts of historical price data and a real-time web-based surveillance system, VIXAL-4 cleans up in the global securities markets.

The hedge fund's compliance officer is a bit of a threat, so VIXAL-4 gets rid of him. The major threat is VIXAL-4's own author, the ex-CERN physicist. He powers down two gigantic data centres to try to stop VIXAL-4 but, would you believe it, there's obviously another data centre somewhere because the physicist ends up looking like nothing more than a psychopathic pyromaniac, while VIXAL-4 sails on unopposed.

Great fun, but quite unrealistic, of course.

Or is it?

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

David Gauke MP and the UK's tax revolution 2


This is turning into a slow-motion political train wreck,
with the care.data scandal
and the revelation
that the hospital episode statistics data sold to numerous companies
contained patient postcodes and dates of birth,
so the anonymity claims were simply false.

UK government departments and their agents store reams of personal information about us. They have to, to do their job.

That data is kept confidential. There are certain uses to which it can legitimately be put. Beyond that – verboten.

There are always poachers circling the game reserve. Most recently, it was Stephan Shakespeare. Then Tim Kelsey. And then David Gauke.

They all want to make more personal data available to researchers or entrepreneurs, to improve policy-making, to improve administration, to stimulate growth in the economy or to make medical break-throughs.

It is questionable whether any of those objectives would be achieved.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The non-existent personal-data control-shift

DMossEsq's millions of readers may have got the wrong impression of Ctrl-Shift – "The opportunities for organisations arising from a new personal information economy are game changing. Ctrl-Shift is the world’s leading market analyst and consulting business helping organisations to capitalise on these opportunities".