Sunday, 30 September 2012

30 September 2012, a big day – Dame Helen Ghosh and ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken

30 September 2012. It's a big day today. Dame Helen Ghosh's last day as permanent secretary at the Home Office. What will change when she's gone?

G-Cloud, GDS, HMRC, Skyscape and the USA PATRIOT Act

At the Office 365 launch, Gordon Frazer, managing director of Microsoft UK,
gave the first admission that cloud data
— regardless of where it is in the world —
is not protected against the USA PATRIOT Act.

----------  o  O  o  ----------

G-Cloud
Whitehall's G-Cloud team have taken the baffling decision to include Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd in its Cloudstore.

Cloudstore is an on-line shop the team have set up to display the wares of approved suppliers and from which government departments are supposed to be able to buy with confidence.

That confidence must be limited in the case of Skyscape which has no track record in business, is so young a company that it has yet to file any accounts and has only one director, who is also the only shareholder.

What are the G-Cloud approval procedures? Is it possible to fail them?

Five questions for the G-Cloud team, champions of cloud computing in the 21st century skyscape of UK government

30 September 2012, posted on the G-Cloud blog here and here. The "Eleanor" addressed here is Eleanor Stewart, the main spokesman for G-Cloud since Ian Watmore and Chris Chant left Whitehall:
dmossesq says:

Your comment is awaiting moderation. 

September 30, 2012 at 7:21 am

This business about Skyscape, the Cloudstore and GDS is fascinating, Eleanor, thank you. And I note that HMRC also have contracted for cloud services with Skyscape. Just a few questions.

Skyscape is too young to have filed any accounts yet with Companies House, so we have no idea about its P&L and its balance sheet. On the other hand, we do know from Companies House that Skyscape’s registered office is at Hartham Park, Hartham, Corsham, Wilts SN13 0RP. And that it has a paid up share capital of just £1,000. The company turns out to have just one director, a Mr JR Sanders. And just one shareholder, the same Mr JR Sanders.

Q1: just how small does a company have to be to fall below the exacting standards for inclusion in the Cloudstore?

Q2: GDS and HMRC seem to have contracted not so much with one company as with one man. Do you think that’s wise?

Skyscape claim to be in some sort of an “alliance” with five other companies including ARK Continuity.

ARK Continuity’s registered address is Hartham Park, Hartham, Corsham, Wilts SN13 0RP. One of its directors, a Mr JP Thomas, who owns £3.20 of ARK’s £16 issued share capital, used to own one share in Skyscape, but transferred it to Mr JR Sanders on 19 April 2012.

Q3: just what does this “alliance” amount to?

ARK is basically a property company and on its website it proudly displays its Spring Park data centre at Hartham Park, Hartham, Corsham, Wilts SN13 0RP. They provide a map of how to get there and helpfully add that the MoD have secure facilities nearby.

Q4: GOV.UK and HMRC’s Skyscape contracts cover important national assets and if the blabbermouths at ARK have given away their current location could you arrange for them to be moved?

Obviously you’re busy and this might be too much of an imposition in the case of a traditional data centre. But I understand that with cloud computing you just press a button and the application disappears from one virtual server and effortlessly spins up immediately on another one.

Q5: Is that correct?
Substantially the same comment has been posted to the Government Digital Service (GDS) blog here and here.

Comments will only appear on the G-Cloud and GDS blogs after moderation by them and only if they want the comments to appear.

G-Cloud, GDS, HMRC and Skyscape, the company with just one director, who owns all the shares – Whitehall SNAFU

The story so far ...

The Government Digital Service (GDS) have contracted with Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd to host the new unified central government website, GOV.UK, in the cloud.

Episode 1, Insanity – are they mad? Skyscape is a £1,000 company. Isn't that a bit small for this monumental responsibility?

Whitehall's G-Cloud team say this is an example of good practice, using small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) instead of the ponderous and expensive big boys.

Episode 2, Mendacity – are they lying? Skyscape claims to be in alliance with five other companies whose combined turnover is £43.3 billion and who have over 100,000 staff. Isn't that a bit big for an SME?

Now read on ...

Friday, 28 September 2012

Whitehall, an apology – they haven't gone mad, they're just lying


A P O L O G Y

In common with precisely no other media outlets DMossEsq yesterday accused Whitehall of having gone mad.

Apologies.

Readers will be relieved to know that far from going bonkers, Whitehall are simply guilty of economy with the actualité, embroidering, gilding the lily, trying it on, stretching things a bit, terminological inexactitude and lying.

So nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to worry about after all.

Identity assurance – the clock is ticking, your moderation is awaiting comment

28 September 2012 and a reply to yesterday's enquiry has whizzed in from GDS, followed by a reply to the reply:

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Government Digital Service, G-Cloud, log-rolling, size matters

... do you think that Whitehall's gone mad?

----------  o  O  o  ----------

One of the ways Whitehall plans to transform itself is to retain more SMEs – small and medium-sized enterprises. The big brutes like IBM are lumbering behemoths, so it is said, they're slow and they cost a fortune. SMEs would put a spring in Whitehall's step.

This is all tied up with G-Cloud, the plan to stick government data in the cloud, thereby making government services efficient, trusted and green. Or so it is said.

And so it was that the G-Cloud blog was really pleased to be able to announce on 18 September 2012 that:
We’re really pleased to be able to announce the first major sale of Infrastructure As A Service. Government Digital Service have signed a contract with Skyscape for:

1) Compute as a service

2) Compute as a service (test & development)

3) Storage as a service

This is all intended to support  the exciting work they’re doing on .gov.uk to revolutionise the way citizens access information and services online ... The purchase also shows that government is ready to embrace low cost utility cloud services and is  buying from SME’s ...

Identity assurance – the clock is ticking, your comment is awaiting moderation

27 September 2012 9:30-ish, posted on the Government Digital Service (GDS) blog here and here:
dmossesq #

Please Note: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Steve Wreyford’s post on OIX is the latest on the ID assurance blog and is dated 14 June 2012, three months ago.

Has there been no activity on identity assurance since then?

Surely there must have been some, GDS are due to announce by the end of September – 85 hours time – which bidders have been approved to provide identity assurance services as per the 1 March 2012 notice in OJEU.

When will we be told who the winners are?

27/09/2012

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

What price privacy? $2.08

With thanks to SheffieldForum.co.uk
"For everything Sheffield"
You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.

So said Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, and many people say they agree with him. Let's call those people "Roundheads".

Cavaliers believe that privacy is an essential ingredient in the recipe for human beings. Miss it out, and you cook up something different, not a human being.

Our location can be tracked by the mobile phone companies. Google records every website we visit. Our entire life history is on Facebook. Our every instantaneous emotional reaction is documented on Twitter. GCHQ want to store all our email headers. David Cameron wants to give all our medical records to researchers. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills wants us to maintain Personal Data Stores with so-called "trusted third parties" we've never met. DWP and the Cabinet Office want the same, so that we can all transact with the government on-line. The G-Cloud Puritans want to store all this data in the cloud with Amazon and others on servers that could be anywhere in the world ...

"There's something wrong with all this", say the Cavaliers. "No there isn't", say the Roundheads, "get over it". And so the argument continues, forever unresolved.

Public spending 3

Each week, writing in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee gives a master class in public finance.

From today's lesson:
What would fairer tax look like? Council tax is the most regressive – the more expensive the property, the lower the proportion of tax paid – so correct that first, and then turn to a mansion tax. Britain's wealth taxes have atrophied. Inheritance tax doesn't work, capital gains entirely forgiven at death. As for the 50p top tax rate, because the rich had a year's notice they took their income in the year before it was introduced. Then, as soon as the cut to 45% was announced a year ahead, they delayed their income until it came in. This two-year tax planning, says the IFS, cost the exchequer £18bn. That's the same as the £18bn cut from the poorest.

It shows just what colossal discretionary sums float among the few at the top: a one-off levy could solve half the national debt while barely touching their lifestyles.
The national debt stood at £1,250.3 billion on 31 December 2011. Half of that is about £625 billion. £625 billion, £18 billion, what's the difference, they're all the same, numbers.

Identity assurance – the clock is ticking, ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken's chickens are coming home to roost

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is part of the Cabinet Office and has six projects on hand, including Identity Assurance:
The ID Assurance team are working on accrediting and approving third party identity to facilitate digital transactions between citizens and government.
If "citizens" and the government are to transact business on-line, there must be a rock solid identity assurance service so that each party knows who it's dealing with. Invitations to tender for the service were issued earlier this year.

GDS haven't so far publicly approved any third parties to provide identity assurance, but we shouldn't have long to wait – no more than five days, in fact:
The tendering process will run for several weeks and is expected to report successful bidders in September 2012.
Delays are only to be expected. Identity assurance for the entire population of the UK is a big project.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Public spending 2

The lead story in today's Observer is Coalition cuts have been too deep, says key Nick Clegg aide:
In a severe embarrassment to the Lib Dem leader as his party conference opened in Brighton, it emerged that his recently departed director of strategy, Richard Reeves, believes the coalition has squeezed spending too tightly and been blind to the benefits of investing in the economy.

According to a pamphlet written by Reeves, the policy may have choked Britain's economic growth and pushed the country into the double dip, as Labour has repeatedly claimed.

Reeves's admissions are particularly incendiary because he only left his position at the heart of government weeks ago and was known to have Clegg's ear.
"Severe embarrassment" ? "Squeezed"? "Blind"? "Choked"? "Admissions"? "Incendiary"?

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Universal Credit and the December putsch

Without him, 21 million people will have no identity.
Without him, Universal Credit will fail.
Will ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken deliver on time?

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December 2011, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) needs an identity assurance service to make its Universal Credit plan work. DWP officials write an invitation to tender (ITT) estimating a figure in the region of £240 million to be offered to suppliers interested in five-year contracts. A notice is published, as required by law, in OJEU, the Official Journal of the European Union.

This is the old way, the path of false consciousness.

The uncomradely hate crime committed by the reactionary cadre DWP is deprecated by Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, and following a late-night encounter in his facility deep in the bowels of the Lubyanka DWP's OJEU notice is voluntarily and swiftly withdrawn. Loyal agents of Minitrue erase all traces of it from the record. All except for this one, expressing DWP's meek contrition:
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has cancelled its tender for identity assurance services, claiming it had not followed the relevant procedures for the procurement.

A spokeswoman for the DWP told GGC: "The Ojeu for identity assurance services (IAS) was (prematurely) issued by the department before all of the necessary governance, approvals and checks were complete and therefore needed to be withdrawn. We expect an Ojeu for IAS to be re-issued in the new year."

Friday, 21 September 2012

Public spending 1

... if you cut today's public spending by the IPPR's other figure of 3.8%
this year and every year for the next 25 years,
it would fall to £263.8 billion,
which is still higher in real terms than it was in 1970-71.
It's a long time ago, certainly,
but we weren't exactly running around in nothing but woad 40 years ago,
there's plenty of room for 3.8% cuts. ...

----------  o  O  o ----------

There is currently a certain amount of debate in the UK about public spending. Iain Duncan Smith wants to "make work pay". Frank Field argues that means-testing rots people's souls. Support for the benefits system, a report says, is at its lowest level for three decades. And according to Alegra Stratton, the political editor of BBC TV's Newsnight, the government is eyeing an end to the link between benefits and inflation.

Ms Stratton laid out the options for public spending over the next few years, please see Wednesday's edition of Newsnight between 15'38" and 21'28". If the budget is to be balanced, the Institute for Public Policy Research say that public spending will have to be cut by 3.8%. If the NHS, education and international aid budgets are to be ring-fenced then the other departments face a cut of 8% in their budgets. There will have to be cuts, says Ms Stratton, and cuts upon cuts, and what does "8% cuts elsewhere, beyond the fence" mean? It means 8%, that's what it means, but Ms Stratton assists her viewers' understanding by explaining that that's equivalent to:

BBC TV Newsnight 19 September 2012
Either that, or huge cuts in welfare, which brings us back to Iain Duncan Smith.

The Government Digital Service, no time to fit in Universal Credit, too busy

They're a ruthless lot, GDS.
They have to prioritise.
Millions of people could be given the opportunity to make work pay?
Too bad.
GDS have a website to write.

----------  o  O  o  ----------

At last the technical IT problems with Universal Credit (UC) are beginning to be reported in the national press, please see selected examples below.

UC is important. "Make work pay" means rescuing people from the poverty trap, where dependency rots their souls, as Frank Field puts it. And tragically, as Mr Field also puts it, "UC is on course for disaster".

There are political problems with UC. That is a matter for Parliament, and Parliament is debating it – the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee is considering 500 pages of evidence from 70 organisations.

Suppose that Westminster resolves the political problems. Then what?

Then UC will still fail because of the IT problems introduced by Whitehall.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Universal Credit, ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken and Sir Jeremy Heywood

At last the technical problems with Universal Credit (UC) are beginning to be reported in the national press:
Universal Credit is due to replace scores of individual benefits from next year, simplifying claims and allowing claimants to keep more of their benefits when they take paid work. The regime will be internet-based, with ministers intending that most claimants apply and report a change in circumstances online.

Appearing before a Commons inquiry into the reform, Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, was asked what was the biggest risk to the programme. “I’ll say what the challenges are, what we need to get right: to get the security system working properly,” he said.

Private security companies will be commissioned to develop a system of “identity assurance” to check that only real claimants can get benefits. “That’s one of the biggest challenges,” said Lord Freud.
Who's in charge of identity assurance? The Cabinet Office. More specifically, the Government Digital Service (GDS). Why is identity assurance one of Lord Freud's "biggest challenges"? Because there is no identity assurance available to UC or any other public service. Lots of talk. Lots of blogging. No identity assurance.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Universal credit, national apathy

Writing in Monday's Guardian, The universal credit programme is on course for disaster, Frank Field concludes that:
It was brave of IDS [Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State at the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP)] to insist on occupying the command on the bridge, but it was the prime minister's wish to avert a catastrophe that drove him to try to move his work and pensions secretary so that the government could quietly shut down the whole reform. His failure to act leaves the disaster on course.
Mr Field believes that means-testing systems like UC, universal credit, create dependency and rot the souls of their parishioners. As the acknowledged authority on welfare, called upon by both the coalition government and their predecessors, his opinion is worth considering.

Monday, 10 September 2012

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 12 and last

Today is the deadline for submitting responses to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) consultation on midata. That doesn't make it an important day. BIS will not be dissuaded by any adverse comment in the responses. But for what it's worth:

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Andrew Dilnot and honest political debate in the UK – 2

Whitehall officials are impervious to all requests to explain their mistaken choices.
And yet they are happy to tell us that we need midata to correct our errors.
After you, Whitehall.
After you.

--- o O o ---

We all make mistakes.

That's what the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) say. Faced with a choice, we make the wrong decision. We need help. Computerised help. And BIS aim to provide that help, through their midata initiative. Applications will process our historical transaction data, they will take into account the products and services currently available from the suppliers, and the right transaction will be brokered for us.

It's not just us proletarians. We all make mistakes. Even Whitehall officials.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 11

Unable to make its case,
BIS's response
– to legislate to make midata compulsory –
is unprincipled.

Lonely old midata, not a single organisation is known to have hitched their wagon to it since 3 November 2011.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Probably not the last victim of Sir David Normington's success

Sometimes it seems as if half the senior decision-makers in Whitehall are former Accenture partners.

But no-one writes "there must be something rotten at Accenture, when so many of their partners are on a veritable stampede for the exit".

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 10

Governing people is difficult. Too difficult.
Whitehall have given up.
midata is part of their alternative plan.
Governing personal data stores will be much easier.

--- o O o ---

Why is billmonitor called "billmonitor"?

billmonitor, if you remember, is a service which advises consumers what the best mobile phone tariff is for them to be on. The company behind this service is a keen supporter of midata, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills initiative, and is "Part of the government Midata board". midata is dedicated to getting the best deal for consumers, whether we're talking about mobile phone contracts or choosing the right gas and electricity suppliers or any other decision including health, education and employment decisions.

It all seems to make sense.

Until you notice that billmonitor has been in business for seven years or so and seems to have survived and maybe even thrived for all that time without needing midata.


Let's leave that for the moment, and try another question.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

GreenInk 9 – Vince Cable and the re-shuffle

Let's see if the Telegraph publish this letter:
From: David Moss
Sent: 05 September 2012 11:34
To: 'dtletters@telegraph.co.uk'
Subject: James Kirkup, 04 Sep 2012, 'Free-market Tories arrive to reel in Vince Cable'

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9521389/Free-market-Tories-arrive-to-reel-in-Vince-Cable.html

Sir

In many cases "free-market Tories" will find it difficult to "reel in Vince Cable" at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills but there is one simple step forward they can take quickly – cancel BIS's confused 'midata' initiative.

Three examples of confusion. 1. BIS wish to take order-making powers to implement 'midata'. They describe this increase in regulation as having a de-regulatory effect. 2. 'midata' is meant to expand the UK economy but BIS agree that it is impossible to predict its macroeconomic effect, which could well be negative. 3. midata is meant to empower consumers. BIS want us consumers to store all our personal data on the web which, far from empowering us, will lay us open to mass identity theft.

If the free-market Tories can stop officials wasting their time and our money on 'midata', that will be a valuable first day's work at BIS.

Yours
David Moss

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 9

BIS prove that midata is unnecessary.
Would you give a complete list of your acquaintance to a stranger?
Do you believe there is such a thing as a secure website?
Why keep a regulator and bark yourself?

--- o O o ---

Talk about lonely.

On 3 November 2011, Ed Davey MP posted 'Giving consumers the midata touch' on the the Department for Business Innovation and Skills blog and that was it – for 305 days, Mr Davey's post sat there all on its own.

Then yesterday, 3 September 2012, a second post was delivered, 'Why my data is important data', written by Stelios Koundouros, the "founder and director of billmonitor.com".

Mr Koundouros describes a number of his company's achievements, helping people since 2005 to choose the right mobile phone tariff. These successes have been achieved without there being any midata. They have been achieved using the mobile phone operators' tariffs and people's mobile phone consumption data both of which are released by the Telcos without there being any midata.

billmonitor.com's success is the neatest proof BIS could possibly have offered that midata is unnecessary.

Monday, 3 September 2012

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 8


BIS's midata initiative raises two questions for you.

Would you trust a complete stranger to store all your personal data?
And would you trust a lot of other complete strangers
(BIS's currently non-existent applications developers)
to process that data?

You might. If you're mad.

--- o O o ---

Coverage in the media of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills's lonely midata initiative remains scant.

The BBC reported on 22 August 2012, in 'Midata project plan for compulsory customer data', that ...
Consumer Minister Norman Lamb said: "It's clear to me that giving consumers the right to access their own transaction data promises huge opportunities for both consumers themselves and UK businesses."
... without pausing to ask how it's clear to Norman Lamb when it isn't clear to anyone else.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 7


... why is the government getting involved in midata,
an initiative which can't deliver any of its stated aims
but which will expose everyone to identity theft?

It's up to the department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS)
to answer that question.

There are two more open forums left in the BIS midata consultation programme
Just email midata@bis.gsi.gov.uk to attend
1 Victoria Street London SW1H 0ET

Let's get an answer


On 3 November 2011, when the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) issued their midata press release, the BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones interviewed Professor Nigel Shadbolt.

Professor Shadbolt is an expert in artificial intelligence. He and his colleague at the University of Southampton, Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, are co-directors of the Open Data Institute (ODI) ...
... established by the UK Government to innovate, exploit and research Open Data opportunities ...

The new Institute is one of a number of measures that the Government announced ... as part of a larger initiative to boost UK economic growth.
Professor Shadbolt is also chair of the midata programme, related to the ODI, but different.

Mr Cellan-Jones has been around the block a few times and he cut straight to the chase:
Two questions spring to mind - what's the catch for consumers and why is the government getting involved?