Thursday, 30 August 2012

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 6

On 3 November 2011, the department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) issued a press release about midata, their "exciting" plan to empower people and make the economy grow.

On or about 26 July 2012 BIS and the Cabinet Office's Behavioural Insights Team jointly issued their midata 2012 review and consultation.

Question – in the intervening 266 days, what did BIS make?

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 5

BIS have no communicable reason whatever
to support their contention that midata would expand the economy

Giving people access to their transaction data will cause the UK economy to grow. That is the logic behind midata according to the department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).

It may seem obvious to you that the argument is valid. If you're a mooncalf.

But it isn't obvious to David Miller.

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 4

In short, BIS want the power to force companies to do something
that they're already doing.

Some readers may by now have forgotten what the point is of midata. In their own words, with a view to empowering consumers and growing the economy, the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) say, in their midata consultation document (para.6, p.11):
... we are consulting on the possibility of taking an order making power. If utilised, this will compel suppliers of services and goods to provide to their customers, upon request, historic transaction data in a machine readable format.
The banks already provide us with "historic transaction data". We've had bank statements for as long as anyone can remember and they're already available on the web "in a machine readable format". The energy companies ditto. And the phone companies. And Amazon. And ...

Monday, 27 August 2012

Andrew Dilnot and honest political debate in the UK – 1

Time was when Sir Michael Scholar was the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) and he said, among other things:
“One of the reasons I took this job is that 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 ...”
You may want to tweak Sir Michael's point a bit. You may prefer to say that there are many fundamental materials, not just "good statistics", whatever "good" means. But if you're interested in honest political debate it's hard to gainsay him, Sir Michael is onto something.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Civil servants are accountable to ministers ... or is it the other way round?

Whitehall is flying a kite in today's Times:
Whitehall looks to Labour as coalition tensions grow
Senior civil servants want closer links with Labour before the next general election, including helping with the party’s manifesto, The Times has learnt.

Informal discussions have taken place at the top of Whitehall on how to ease the Opposition’s possible transition to government and avoid a repeat of the policy fiascos and U-turns that senior mandarins believe have hampered the coalition since the election.

One option being considered is whether officials should be seconded to work with Labour as part of their career development. The move coincides with fears in Whitehall that the coalition is breaking up, with the two parties in government pursuing different paths over the next two years.

Civil servants argue privately that climbdowns on NHS reform, forestry privatisation, tax measures and the Lords could have been avoided if Whitehall had been involved earlier in some of the decisions ...
The polite myth is that civil servants are accountable to ministers and ministers are accountable to parliament.

No-one believes that, of course.

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 3

The prospectus for midata, the new stock being touted around the market by the department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), offers consumers not just access to their transaction data but also control of it. Due diligence reveals that this is just hot air. Control of your data is not on the menu. This sort of deception annoys subscribers. No reputable stockbroker would back the issue and no stock exchange would list it.

There's not much more than that to say – BIS is trying to float a wrong 'un – but for train-spotters, chapter and verse are quoted below:

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Cloud computing – we hold these truths to be self-evident ... and we're plumb wrong

Much of government IT is a mess.

That's the problem.

And cloud computing is the solution. What the UK Constitution needs is a government cloud, a G-Cloud.

Is that true? You know it is – it's a no-brainer.

Cloud computing is cheaper than the alternative and it always will be. You know that. It's more flexible – you can spin up new capacity whenever volumes rise, just like that, and switch it off at no cost the minute it's not needed. You don't need to worry, the level of security is higher than could be achieved in-house, someone else does the backups for you and keeps all the applications you have licences for up to date.

That's the sales pitch of the big suppliers of cloud computing services – Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple, ... And coincidentally it's the UK government's IT strategy. There can be no doubt.

Now consider this 6 August 2012 article in Wired magazine by Mat Honan:

Monday, 13 August 2012

Home Office soon to be Ghoshless

Home Office press release, 13 August 2012:
Dame Helen Ghosh to leave civil service
Dame Helen Ghosh DCB is to step down as Permanent Secretary of the Home Office to take up the role of Director General of the National Trust, she announced today.

Dame Helen will leave the department in September after a 33 year career in the civil service ...

Head of the Civil Service Sir Bob Kerslake said: 'As Permanent Secretary at Defra and the Home Office, Helen has delivered extraordinary change including departmental reform, the independent UK Border Force and support for the successful London Olympics.

'She has been an inspiring leader, who has made a very strong corporate contribution, both via the Civil Service Board, leading the capability strand of our Civil Service Reform Programme and as a vibrant role model and champion of talent and diversity. I wish her every success in her new leadership role at the National Trust.'

Helen Kilpatrick, Director General of the Financial and Commercial Group, will stand in as interim Permanent Secretary until a replacement for Helen Ghosh is appointed.
National Trust press release, 13 August 2012:

Sunday, 12 August 2012

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 2

You will recall the Behavioural Insights Team and its work, the initiative being sponsored by Francis Maude's Cabinet Office.

At least you will if you have that annoying capacity for retaining trivial information which afflicts some people.

For the rest of you, a refresher ...

Friday, 10 August 2012

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 1

You will recall midata, the initiative being sponsored by Vince Cable's Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).

At least you will if you have that annoying capacity for retaining trivial information which afflicts some people.

For the rest of you, a refresher ...

Monday, 6 August 2012

The whiff of cordite in Whitehall 2

They spend about £700 billion of our money every year, much of it wasted. Whitehall's mandarins exercise the prerogatives previously reserved to Stuart kings. Their harlot power is jealously guarded, while all responsibility is taken by more or less hapless ministers. Challenges come and go. They're usually seen off, the politicians give up and we the public carry on paying.

You may as well know that the whiff is back, there is once again cordite in Whitehall. Francis Maude thinks that if ministers are to take responsibility, then they really ought to have some say in which officials manage the political initiatives and the associated budgets. The Guardian has the story – Ministers to be given say in civil service appraisals. So does Public Servant magazine – Ministers are to manage the Civil Service:
Maude's preference now is that ministers be involved in Civil Service appraisals and be given powers to hire and fire staff. And expert advice on how to ensure maximum efficiency should be sought from beyond Britain's shores if necessary.
Francis Maude v. the massed ranks of the senior civil service?

Good luck, Mr Maude.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Political will (if any) trounced by Dame Helen Ghosh and the Whitehall ancien régime

Trust the Home Office.

Last year's annual report and accounts to 31 March 2011 said that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) reduced its staff by about 1,900 during 2010-11 and planned to reduce it by a further 3,500 by 31 March 2015. These reductions would all be achieved by "efficiencies".

So there they were, dutifully implementing government policy, cutting staff.

Barclays (ouija) board says "non nein" to O'Donnell

According to Robert Peston, the BBC's chronicler of the credit crunch:
From my conversations with senior Barclays sources, I have learned there is a favoured candidate for each of its top vacancies.

The former head of the civil service, Lord O'Donnell, is the board of the bank's preferred choice as new chairman ...
Barclays faces the same problems as other banks at the moment – PPI, swaps, LIBOR, capital adequacy, maybe a bit of money-laundering thrown in, investigation by the US authorities, ... – with the added complication that it has to replace both its Chairman and its Chief Executive.

How likely is it that the board would choose as their new Chairman Sir-Gus-now-Lord O'Donnell, the architect of the credit crunch?