Friday, 30 December 2011

GreenInk 4 – Private Eye blinks, misses a scoop

From: David Moss
Sent: 30 December 2011 10:39
To: 'strobes@private-eye.co.uk'
Subject: Brodie Clark

Sir

While the Eye joins in with the establishment rubbishing of Brodie Clark – in your case by quoting the ineffably smug Michael Mansfield – you ignore the improvised explosive device Mr Clark detonated when he gave evidence* to the Home Affairs Committee. The fingerprinting technology wished on UKBA is the least reliable identity/security check made at the border, Mr Clark said, it is the ninth and bottom priority and, if any check has to be suspended, it is "very sensible" to suspend the fingerprint check. It is presumably of no interest to you that the Home Office want to replace hundreds or even thousands of Border Force staff with a technology that might work in Hollywood films but certainly doesn't at Heathrow.

Yours
David Moss

* http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=9445&st=11:36:43, listen between 12:18 and 12:24.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

GreenInk 3 – did Sir Gus O'Donnell abolish boom and bust?

Unpublished:
From: David Moss
Sent: 22 December 2011 10:23
To: 'dtletters@telegraph.co.uk'
Subject: Sir Gus O'Donnell, 21 December 2011 -- It’s risks, not rules, that must point the way

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/8971893/Its-risks-not-rules-that-must-point-the-way.html

Sir

Sir Gus O'Donnell quite rightly alludes to his influence on Gordon Brown's decision for the UK not to join the Euro.

What other decisions did he influence?

Sir Gus co-edited two books with Ed Balls. One of them, in 2002, congratulated Gordon Brown and celebrated the end of boom and bust. The other, in 2003, congratulated Gordon Brown for providing opportunity to all.

Sir Gus, by then, had been our man at the IMF and the World Bank. He had been Director of the UK's macroeconomic policy and Head of the government economics service – every economist in HMG reported to him. He had been responsible for the UK's fiscal policy, international development and EMU. And he had become Permanent Secretary at HM Treasury. Gordon Brown had been none of these things.

Yours
David Moss

Refs:

1. Reforming Britain's Economic and Financial Policy: Towards Greater Economic Stability, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reforming-Britains-Economic-Financial-Policy/dp/0333966112/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1317602734&sr=1-1

2. Microeconomic Reform in Britain: Delivering Opportunities for All, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Microeconomic-Reform-Britain-Delivering-Opportunities/dp/1403912491/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317602189&sr=8-1

3. Whose bust is it anyway?, http://www.dmossesq.com/2011/10/whose-bust-is-it-anyway.html

Monday, 19 December 2011

Festschrift: Sir Gus O'Donnell 3

GOD retires at the end of the year and the eulogies have started. We should be grateful according to the Times:
Prime ministers’ spouses these days, he thinks, require more official help. “They have some support. I suspect it probably should be a bit bigger ... we need to recognise that the role is a broader, more public role these days. The media pay more attention to them, what they’re wearing.”

So would he like a dress allowance for spouses for public events and more staff support? “It would be good to get the spouses together and it would be good for there to be cross-party agreement on this sort of thing.” He doesn’t want to prescribe whether they need a cook or hairdresser. “It’s one of those things you’d have to think quite carefully about. Different people might want to handle it in different ways.” And he doesn’t want their retinue to grow too large. “Keeping prime ministers grounded in the real world matters a lot.”
What a nice man. He thinks of everything. This new way of being generous with other people's money is his parting shot. A warm feeling to remember him by.

That's not how Sir Richard Mottram will remember Sir Gus. Sir Richard identifies seven problems which beset Whitehall:
  1. how to improve the efficiency of the civil service and the wider public service
  2. how the Cabinet Office can take charge of that improvement in efficiency
  3. how the centre (i.e. the Cabinet Office? Number 10? Not clear) can keep control of its satrapies, the various departments of state
  4. how the head of the home civil service can have any influence on the Prime Minister if he is not also Cabinet Secretary and permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office
  5. how to ensure cabinet government as opposed to Blair-style sofa government
  6. how to provide effective career planning/talent management for senior civil servants
  7. how to provide leadership for the civil service
Six of those problems – all except No.4 – were there before Sir Gus's arrival. He hasn't solved them. They're still there.

But at least the idea has been floated at last that the prime minister's spouse should have a hairdresser  or a cook paid for by the taxpayer.

Festschrift: Sir Gus O'Donnell 2

GOD retires at the end of the year and the eulogies have started. We should be grateful according to the Times:
“There’s not a government that’s come in and said, ‘I want to increase child poverty’. They all want to save the planet. The ultimate goals are good, they just have different ways of going about them.” It sounds rather like Yes, Prime Minister with the civil servants running the show while politicians come and go. “No, we have this very clear view that we advise, they decide,” the Cabinet Secretary insists.
Officials advise, politicians decide? Is there anyone left on the planet who believes that?

We have a wide choice on this blog of examples of how officials have wasted money on NPfIT, FiReControl, ID cards, G-Cloud, midata, ePassports, C-Nomis and Libra, and how there seems to be nothing politicians can do about it.

Consider midata. BIS – the department of Business, Innovation and Skills – wants to spend our money on getting people to store all their personal data in PDSs, personal data stores. They get the minister, Ed Davey, to put his name to a BIS blog post. It is in that sense that the minister has decided. That's on 3 November 2011. The point of midata is that individuals will have control of their data once it's in a PDS. Several commenters ask the same question over the following few days – how? How will people be able to control what happens to their data?

46 days later, today, and there's still no answer. The minister hasn't responded. Either he doesn't know how to respond or he can't be bothered. He's obviously not in control.

His officials are. They have advised. They will proceed, without explaining themselves. And we will pay.

And that's the home civil service for you. The home civil service, of which Sir Gus O'Donnell has been the head for six years since 1 September 2005. Grateful?

Festschrift: Sir Gus O'Donnell 1

GOD retires at the end of the year and the eulogies have started. We should be grateful according to the Times:
At times, the civil servants’ role is to save politicians from themselves. Sir Gus is proud to have been instrumental in stopping Britain joining the euro in 2003 when he was Permanent Secretary at the Treasury. “We did the biggest evidence-based piece of work I’ve ever done. My only regret now is we didn’t get it translated into Greek and send it across. There were a number of politicians who, out of a belief that the politics was the crucial part, wanted us to go in. Imagine what state we’d be in if we’d been in the euro.”
It could have been worse, yes, but just look at the state we are in. During the 10 years of plenty, 1997-2007, public spending went through the roof, much of it wasted, the planned budget deficit this year is £121 billion and the interest bill is £50 billion.

Is Sir Gus "proud to have been instrumental" in that success, too?

Congratulations to Lin Homer

Some misguided readers are under the impression that Lin Homer, the hero of The Adventures of Marsham Towers, is a fictional character.

Far from it, she has now been appointed Chief Executive of HM Revenue & Customs.

Our congratulations to Ms Homer.

Friday, 16 December 2011

The on the spot answer


This is the (draft and subject to change) answer to a comment posted by one Mr Reader:

Dear Mr Reader

Thank you for trying to put me on the spot. I’ve been trying to put myself on the spot for years. And failing.

Assuming that that continues, when the final enquiry report is in at the end of next month, the most likely outcome is that everyone’s reputation will be tarnished – Brodie Clark, Theresa May and Helen Ghosh – but the daily round will revert to its pre-4 November 2011 pattern, the usual dismal calm will prevail in the Dark Department, there will be no more sense of sudden explosions, nasty surprises and unexpected eruptions.

That’s the 98%+ likely scenario. A dirty taste in the mouth, business as usual re-established.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Plus ça change – tax farming


Matthew xviii:17
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church : but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a Publican.
Luke xviii:11
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican.
Presumably schoolboys have been told for 400 years to stop giggling, the gospel-writers in the King James version were not suggesting that everyone who runs a pub is an extortioner or an adulterer, deaf to the church. Rather:
In antiquity, publicans (Latin publicanus (singular); publicani (plural)) were public contractors, in which role they often supplied the Roman legions and military, managed the collection of port duties, and oversaw public building projects. In addition, they served as tax collectors for the Republic (and later the Roman Empire), bidding on contracts (from the Senate in Rome) for the collection of various types of taxes.

Brodie Clark's evidence 3

The Home office has launched three investigations into the Brodie Clark affair:
  • One by Dave Wood, ex-Metropolitan Police detective, currently the UKBA's head of enforcement and crime group. This is a two-week inquiry designed to discover to what extent checks were scaled down, and what the security implications might have been.
  • One by Mike Anderson, an ex-MI6 official, presently director general of the strategy, immigration and international group at the Home Office. This will investigate wider issues relating to the performance of UKBA.
  • It was announced on 5 November 2011 by Theresa May that an independent inquiry would also be undertaken, led by the Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, John Vine.
On 8 December 2011, the Home Affairs Committee released new testimony submitted to them by Mr Clark which includes this:
I remain concerned that the only independent inquiry into matters is that of the Home Affairs Select Committee. I took from some of the exchanges in evidence with others that the HASC shares some of my concern. The investigation by Mr Wood is unsafe as he is a participant. He was at the Board meeting referred to above and as the committee noted, Mr Vine is a witness.

ChristmasList: Misfeasance in public office

It was Christmas day in the harem,
The eunuchs were standing round [that's us, the public, we're the eunuchs],
And hundreds of beautiful women [or, at least, £710 billion of our money]
Were stretched out on the ground,
When in strode the bold bad sultan [or mandarin, Sir Gus O'Donnell]
And stared at his marble halls [or Whitehall]:
"What do you want for Christmas, boys?"
And the eunuchs answered tidings of comfort and joy
[viz. charges of misfeasance in public office
being brought against various satraps
e.g. Sir David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS]

Monday, 12 December 2011

Mobile phones – location tracking

Did everyone spot it?

The Killing, Series 2, Episode 7, 17'30".

Raben's father-in-law tells him Special Branch are following him. Raben instantly takes something out of his pocket, fiddles with it and puts it back.

He was taking the battery out of his mobile phone – the only way to be (fairly) sure that it isn't being used to locate/track him.

Him. Or anyone else. You, for example. Your mobile phone is a voluntarily worn electronic tag. Your mobile phone, and mine, is an electronic ID card.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The case for midata – the answer is a mooncalf

Ed Davey, Minister at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, is promoting the midata initiative. In this, he is guided by a management consultancy called Ctrl-Shift. Ctrl-Shift have recently issued a report which makes the business case for the investment of public money in midata.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Managing the minister

There's a right way of doing these things. And a wrong way. Whitehall got it right in November 2008. And all wrong in November 2011.

2008 – the right way
November 2008. You remember. Gordon Brown is sub-Prime Minister and is busy saving the world. The economy is in meltdown and Sir Gus O'Donnell is Cabinet Secretary, Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office and Head of the home civil service, responsible for all senior appointments. Sir David Normington is Permanent Secretary at the Home Office. Bob Quick is Assistant Commissioner at the Met, Damian Green is Shadow Immigration Minister, Christopher Galley is chief Tory Mole at the Home Office, and Jacqui Smith is Home Secretary.

Information had been leaking from the Home Office for some time, allowing Damian Green to ask embarrassing questions in the House. How, for example, had 11,000 illegal immigrants been licensed by the Security Industry Authority to work as security guards?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

PerishTheThought: the public interest 2

In view of the impending retirement of Sir Gus O'Donnell, Sir Richard Mottram conducted a review of Whitehall and identified seven abiding problems, problems which existed before the advent of Sir Gus and which persist still.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

PerishTheThought: the public interest 1

Sir Gus O'Donnell, Cabinet Secretary, Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office and Head of the home civil service, gave evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee on 23 November 2011. No transcript available yet but, according to the Guardian:
The Freedom of Information act is a mistake, and is having a negative effect on governing, Britain's top civil servant said. Sir Gus O'Donnell told the Commons public administration select committee that it had stymied full and frank discussion of options by ministers and others in government. The 2001 act gives members of the public and journalists the right to ask for publication of official documents.

"The problem is, virtually everything [in such documents] is subject to a public interest test. If asked to give advice, I'd say I can't guarantee they can say without fear or favour if they disagree with something, and that information will remain private. Because there could be an FoI request.

"It's having a very negative impact on the freedom of policy discussions."
What possible interest could we the public have in how the unelected Sir Gus, or his unaccountable office, spends £710 billion of our money for us this year?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Your Money And How They Spend It – interim report

Episode 1 of this Nick Robinson programme went out last night. Let's wait until we've seen episode 2 before making a final judgement.

In the interim, there are a few questions:
  • Who is "they"? After watching Mr Robinson's programme, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was an unnamed politician who spent our money on a new regional network of control centres for the fire brigade. It wasn't. It was Dame Mavis McDonald and Sir Peter Housden who had control of the cheque book. They were somehow omitted from the tale.
  • Who gets "your money"? There was no mention of PA Consulting, who picked up £42 million for project management and no mention of Cassidian, who built the useless control centres.
  • And we weren't told "how" they spend it. The indefatigable Tony Collins has another story today about how public money is actually spent, Officials pay supplier invoices – then raise purchase orders, based on another report from the equally indefatigable Amyas Morse at the National Audit Office: "the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in up to 35% of cases, raises its purchase order after it gets the invoice from suppliers".
Explaining why this is the wrong way round would presumably have detracted from the agreeably chummy atmosphere of Mr Robinson's interviews with Alan Johnson et al. But it might have been a more helpful use of a whole hour of airtime.

Tony Collins has remembered another example of the scandalous insouciance with which our money is spent: "On the C-Nomis IT project for prisons, the National Offender Management Service paid £161m without keeping any record of what the payments were for".

There's a lot for him to fit into episode 2. Will Mr Robinson do his job?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Technology securing the border

Poor ... inefficient ... over-hyped ... real risk to the integrity of the control ... immature ... poor quality ... unreliable ... completely fails ... not joined up ... comical ... erroneous ... laughable ... these are just some of the words of praise heaped on the electronic face recognition gates used for passport control at Heathrow Airport, and on the eBorders scheme in general, in Nicola Stanbridge's eulogy broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning.



Hat tip: JGM

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Your Money And How They Spend It – BBC2 9pm 23 & 30 November

Could be worth a watch.

The programme is made by Nick Robinson, Political Editor at the BBC, who trailed it in the Telegraph.

Will Mr Robinson observe polite convention and pretend that politicians are responsible? He might. He says:
Keeping old hospitals open is popular ... So too is building expensive new developments in the regions. Take fire control centres, which it was promised would use the latest technology to track emergency vehicles by satellite to keep us all safer in the event not just of fire, but floods and terrorist attacks. Just one problem: the technology didn’t work. Eight centres are open but empty. Just one will be costing not far short of £100,000 a month for the next 24 years.
Does he really believe that FiReControl, the disastrous project he alludes to, was all John Prescott's fault and nothing to do with officials?

Or will Mr Robinson spread the blame a little wider and recommend more openness?
We can all hope, though, that once this crisis is over we will have learnt to have a more honest, more open, more realistic debate about your money and how they spend it. 

WrinklesInTheMatrix: Boris Johnson 1

Telegraph, 21 October 2011:
Boris Johnson rebuked over use of dodgy statistics
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has been rebuked by the head of Britain’s statistics watchdog for repeatedly using questionable figures to overstate his claims of cutting reoffending rates.

Sir Michael Scholar, the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, which scrutinises all official figures, singled out some of Mr Johnson’s comments to the Home Affairs Select Committee last month ...
Guardian, 16 November 2011:
Boris Johnson says UK Statistics Authority chair is 'Labour stooge'
Boris Johnson has accused the chair of the UK Statistics Authority of being a "Labour stooge".

The London mayor's attack came after he was put on the rack over misleading statistics he had given to a Commons committee to highlight the success of an initiative to cut crime ...
Now here's a wrinkle – three of them, actually:
  • Statistics are pre-party political, they don't "know" about Labour and Conservative
  • If doctors used statistics the way politicians do, we'd all be dead
  • Sir Michael was Private Secretary to Margaret Thatcher 1981-83
Sir Michael is a Good Thing. Boris please note, Sir Michael says:
... having good statistics is like having clean water and clean air. It’s the fundamental material that we depend on for an honest political debate.

Friday, 18 November 2011

BBC Radio Scotland – Sassenach border incursion

Tomorrow morning's Newsweek Scotland, 19 November 2011 8 a.m., presented by Derek Bateman, includes a discussion of border control, with background briefing by someone. Mr Bateman's good-humoured parting shot was that by the time someone's contributions have been edited, they'll all imply the opposite of what was said.

Three long talks with BBC producers in a week. One programme to show for it.

We'll see.

Or hear.

----------

On Derek Bateman's blog:
I suggest you turn the volume down when I speak to David Moss
On iPlayer, starting at 47'18", available for the next week or so.

Whitehall – SNAFU

Sir Richard Mottram will be famous in some people's minds as the Permanent Secretary at the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when 9/11, Stephen Byers, Jo "It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors' expenses?" Moore and Martin Sixsmith all happened at the same time, leading Sir Richard to deliver himself of his numinous SitRep:
We're all fucked. I'm fucked. You're fucked. The whole department is fucked. It's the biggest cock-up ever. We're all completely fucked.

Whitehall – misfeasance in public office

Dame Helen Ghosh has been Permanent Secretary at the Home Office since 1 January 2011. Before her, it was Sir David Normington. And before him, it was Sir John Gieve who signed the accounts.

On 21 July 2006, the Times published Accounts for Home Office adrift by trillions:
A National Audit Office review of transactions carried out on the Home’s Office’s financial IT system found problems with the data. “When the gross transaction value of debits and credits within this data was totalled, they each amounted to £26,527,108,436,994: almost 2,000 times higher than the Home Office’s gross expenditure for 2004-05 and approximately one and a half times higher than the estimated gross domestic product of the entire planet,” a note from the National Audit Office said.

“This suggests something has gone seriously awry. We have yet to receive an explanation for what has happened,” the note added.

Last night Richard Bacon, a Conservative member of the [Public Accounts Committee], said: “In any parish council or cricket club the person responsible would have been out on his ear. What actually happened was that Sir John was promoted to become Deputy Governor of the Bank of England in charge of financial stability in the banking system.

“You might reasonably expect to see this in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, but not in real life.”
Make the most of any smile that brought to your lips.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Brodie Clark's evidence 2

In the opinion of this blog:
For 10 years the Home Office have been investing public money unwisely in projects which depend for their success on mass consumer biometrics technology being reliable – it isn't.
Brodie Clark gave evidence yesterday to the Home Affairs Committee. According to Public Servant magazine's report he said:
"The warnings index had not been compromised at Heathrow ... it must never be compromised. There are nine checks, the fingerprint check is the least reliable, it is a secondary and additional check to the face against document match. The policy required me to suspend watch list checking, the manager at Heathrow decided to suspend the lower level of checking and I approved."

GreenInk 2 – bringing the Home Office's use of biometrics under statistical control

Unpublished:
From: David Moss
Sent: 15 November 2011 17:54
To: 'letters@thetimes.co.uk'
Subject: Jenny Booth and Philippe Naughton, 15 November 2011, Theresa May ‘destroyed my reputation’

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/article3227351.ece

Sir

In the matter of Brodie Clark, the public learn for the first time that "fingerprint matching ... was the lowest level of nine identity checks".

Ministers have given the impression for ten years since 9/11 that these biometrics are reliable. No statistics have ever been published to support this impression. There are no such statistics.

We have also learnt through the UK Statistics Authority that the Home Office have been misusing statistics, not for the first time, to improve the impression of their performance.

The UK Statistics Authority's stance in this matter is exemplary. I recommend that they should also be given the chance to review the statistics available on the biometrics used by the Home Office. If this technology turns out to be too unreliable, then the projects which rely on it should be discontinued to avoid any further waste of public money.

Yours
David Moss

GreenInk 1 – an alternative target for DfID's billions

Unpublished:
From: David Moss
Sent: 13 November 2011 12:55
To: 'dtletters@telegraph.co.uk'
Subject: UKBA and DfID

Sir

While the UK Border Agency are clearly short of money, the Department for International Development are said to be concerned at how hard it is to find worthy causes to spend their our money on. If we re-classify the activities of UKBA as international development, perhaps ...

Yours
David Moss

Ed Davey, problem-solver – midata

In 1621, King James I directed the Privy Council to establish a temporary committee to investigate the causes of a decline in trade and consequent financial difficulties. The Board's formal title remains The Lords of the Committee of Privy Council appointed for the consideration of all matters relating to Trade and Foreign Plantations.
That's what it says on Wikipedia, under Board of Trade.

400 years later and not a foreign plantation in sight, this temporary committee is thriving and we still have a President of the Board of Trade – Vince Cable, Secretary of State at BIS, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

What with him ruling by divine right (James, not Vince), it's unlikely that James would have seen the need for a team of no less than five ministers of state, but that's what Vince has got, plus Ed Davey, Lib Dem MP for Kingston and Surbiton, minister for employment relations, consumer and postal affairs.

And thank goodness for Ed Davey with his PPE from Oxford and his masters in economics from the LSE because, 400 years later, here we are again with a decline in trade and consequent financial difficulties. But not for long. Mr Davey has the answer.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Whitehall waste – official statistics

From today's BBC News website:
Home Office drug seizure figures were 'highly selective'
The UK Border Agency has been "highly selective" in its use of drugs seizure figures, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority has said.

Sir Michael Scholar has written to the Home Office to seek reassurances that figures were not released to generate positive news coverage.

He said if this was the case it would be "highly corrosive and damaging" ...
Sir Michael is Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority. He is a Good Thing.

Brodie Clark's evidence 1

In the opinion of this blog:
For 10 years the Home Office have been investing public money unwisely in projects which depend for their success on mass consumer biometrics technology being reliable – it isn't.
Brodie Clark gave evidence today to the Home Affairs Committee. According to the Guardian's live coverage:
Clark says there are nine checks. The fingerprint check is the most recent, and the least reliable. It was a lower-level check.
Lifting that check was a "sensible" thing do to.

Monday, 14 November 2011

WrinklesInTheMatrix: ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken 1

The Cabinet Office want everyone to transact with government over the web.

In order to do so, the government must know who everyone is. That means everyone needs an electronic identity.

Mindful of the humiliating failure of the Home Office's identity cards scheme, the Cabinet Office have asked the private sector to devise an identity assurance service. An identity assurance service that is absolutely nothing like the Home Office scheme with its national identity register and its biometrics.

Someone has been spoiling the Cabinet Office's fun by pointing out that we already have a way to transact with government over the web, using the UK Government Gateway.

Too old-fashioned, they say, we must have a modern gateway.

And as if to prove it, the Cabinet Office have hired ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken to be executive director of government digital services and SRO of the identity assurance programme. (Keep up at the back – senior responsible owner.)

Boy. Is he ever modern. He ran the Guardian website until six months ago. He uses Apple laptops. And Google Apps. Which means Google, Julian Assange and the Chinese will all know about the identity assurance programme before we the public do.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Zero

Q1 What is the probability that Brodie Clark woke up one morning, fancied a change, and decided to throw the borders open?

Q2 Pillorying Brodie Clark and forcing him out of UKBA is bad politics, bad management and bad manners. What is the probability that all this pillorying and forcing was Theresa May's idea?

Hint Since 2005, we have had three Prime Ministers, five Home Secretaries and only one head of the home civil service, Sir Gus O'Donnell.

Background reading

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Whitehall on trials

Appendix
Home Secretary, somewhat late in the day, herewith the appendix promised in my open letter to you dated 8 November 2011.

The fourth enquiry – into the efficacy of the biometrics used by UKBA and the Home Office generally – has at its disposal a lot of evidence in the form of correspondence with the Home Office, the UK Border Agency, the Identity & Passport Service, the Home Office Scientific Development Branch, the Information Commissioner and the Information Rights Tribunal available here, herehere and here. The enquiry may also be assisted by reading the reports on biometrics here, here and here.

The hypothesis that the enquiry needs to test is that:
For 10 years the Home Office have been investing public money unwisely in projects which depend for their success on mass consumer biometrics technology being reliable – it isn't.

Oborneiana – Theresa May and Brodie Clark

Peter Oborne had an article published on the Daily Telegraph website dated 9 November 2011, 'Theresa May’s attempts to pass the buck make for a distressing spectacle'. The article provoked a strong desire to help him.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Brodie Clark alone

Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Open letter
Secretary of State for the Home Department
Marsham St
London W1 SW1
8 November 2011

Dear Home Secretary

Brodie Clark alone
I write to suggest the right course of action to follow now.

You have started three enquiries. You must start a fourth.

Without that fourth enquiry, although you may keep your job, your name will be tarnished.

With it, even if you lose your job, your reputation will be enhanced. You will eventually be recognised as having struck a blow in favour of the businesslike investment of public money and against the present practice of Whitehall wasting it by the lorryload. And you will eventually be recognised as having struck a blow in favour of democracy and against the present practice of rule by an unelected and unaccountable Whitehall.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

494 years later ...

... a profitable 22 minutes and 53 seconds may be spent by all, listening to the audio of Chris Chant's talk, given to the Institute for Government on 20 October 2011, available here and here:

In the first nine minutes, Mr Chant declares war on the Whitehall dispensation under Pope Augustine.

REFORMATION I
The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences (Latin: Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum), commonly known as The Ninety-Five Theses, was written by Martin Luther in 1517 and is widely regarded as the primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. The disputation protests against clerical abuses, especially the sale of indulgences …

On the eve of All Saint’s Day, October 31, 1517, Luther posted the ninety-five theses, which he had composed in Latin, on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, according to university custom.
REFORMATION II
OK, we don’t call it “reformation” now, we call it “transformational government”. But that’s what Mr Chant’s talking about, isn’t it. He didn’t nail his theses to the door, they were posted as an audio stream. But it comes to the same. And we don't buy indulgences any more, but we might as well, it might be more effective than paying PA Consulting and Computer Sciences Corporation.

What chance did Luther stand, with the powers ranged against him? To any sensible observer at the time, none. Ditto Mr Chant. But Luther won. Mr Chant (and we) might, too.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

It's all John's fault

This year, our government plans to spend £710 billion. That’s the figure that was published by Her Majesty’s Treasury when the Chancellor presented his Budget last March.

£710 billion. It’s a lot of money. Where does it come from?

£158 billion of it is our income tax and another £101 billion is the take from national insurance. It’s our money coming out of our pay packets. The government gets its cut when we earn money and when we spend it – they expect to collect £100 billion in VAT this year and a further £46 billion in excise duties on cigarettes, alcohol and road tax. They get another £26 billion out of us from Council Tax, and £73 billion from businesses, in the form of corporation tax and business rates.

When the figures don’t add up, when there’s a budget deficit, the government borrows money to close the gap, leaving us with new debts to pay off. £50 billion of the £710 billion above goes straight out of the door on interest payments. This year they’re planning to borrow another £121 billion.

All this money is public money. It is spent for us, on our behalf, by Whitehall. By civil servants. By officials.

Public money deserves to be spent extra wisely. How good are Whitehall at deciding how to spend it? How much public money is wasted? And how could the waste be reduced?

Friday, 14 October 2011

WrinklesInTheMatrix: Francis Maude 1

There it is, right on the gov.uk website, Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, Cabinet Office minister, his biography, under Directorships:
His other jobs outside politics include non-executive director of ASDA Group, director at Salomon Brothers, and managing director of Morgan Stanley & Co.
Let's make sure we've got that right. Catechism:
Q What was Francis Maude's job at Morgan Stanley?
A He was managing director.

Q Who was managing director of Morgan Stanley?
A Francis Maude was.

Q Where was Francis Maude managing director?
A Morgan Stanley.
Now here's a wrinkle – there is no managing director of Morgan Stanley.

WrinklesInTheMatrix: Oliver Letwin 1

Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, has been caught by the Daily Mirror throwing state secrets in a rubbish bin in the park:
David Cameron's right-hand man Oliver Letwin has been caught dumping secret papers in park waste bins.

The PM's blundering policy adviser was seen on five separate days throwing away sensitive correspondence on terrorism, national security and constituents' private details.
Now here's a wrinkle – four years ago, Mr Letwin said in the Times that:
Cameron Conservatism puts no faith in central direction and control. Instead, it seeks to identify social and environmental responsibilities that participants in the free market are likely to neglect, and then establish frameworks that will lead people and organisations to act of their own volition in ways that will improve society by increasing general wellbeing.
The suggestion then was that Mr Letwin was just the man to establish the framework within which people would behave responsibly. Now it seems perhaps that he isn't.

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Psychological note: Everyone including Tony Blair had a good laugh at Mr Letwin's "sociocentric frameworks" and "econocentric paradigms" but his article was actually a bit serious and had something to do with "nudging", i.e. getting people to behave properly without passing laws all the time, an unimpeachable objective which somehow becomes sinister in his hands.

Obituary: his article was also intimately linked with the death of the Conservative party.

WrinklesInTheMatrix: Ian Watmore 1

Eight days after the publication of Whose bust is it anyway?, Sir Gus O'Donnell announced that he would stand down as Cabinet Secretary at the end of the year. According to the Telegraph, so it must be true, Sir Gus's job as permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office is to be taken by Ian Watmore:
His third job as permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office will go to Ian Watmore, a former chief executive of the Football Association who is currently chief operating officer of the Whitehall efficiency group in the Cabinet Office.
Now here's a wrinkle – eight months earlier, on 1 February 2011, Mr Watmore appeared in front of the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) to give evidence in the Committee's enquiry into good governance and civil service reform. At Q154 he was asked by the Chair to identify himself and said:
I am Ian Watmore, Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office ...
Does Mr Watmore have second sight? If so, what else can he tell us about the future?

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Less for more

First Katie worked for James and Ian. Then Ian left and so did Katie. When James left as well, Katie stopped working for Ian and went to work for James. Then James left and Sarah took over. There was no room for Katie so she went back to working for Ian. Until Christine left and now Katie finds herself working for David. Or is it the other way around? Will Ian's will prevail? Just how much are we paying CSC? And for what? How did the Daily Mail get themselves suckered? And where does Andrew come into it?

All of that and more – including Sir Anthony Blunt – in the latest edition of the long-running programme, Whitehall in control ...

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Efficiency and reform, Whitehall-style

Take a look at this CV:
Managing Director (age 42) of the UK arm of a global management consultancy – Chief Information Officer of the UK government – Head of Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit – Permanent Secretary at the Department of Innovation Universities and Skills – Chief Executive of the Football Association – Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office – Chief Operating Officer (age 52) of the Efficiency & Reform Group – and it’s not over yet.
Enviable. By any lights, that is a successful career.

Or is it?

Monday, 3 October 2011

Whose bust is it anyway?

In 1970, when Augustine Thomas O’Donnell started his economics degree at Warwick, Ed Balls was three years old.