Sunday, 30 June 2013

The China Syndrome

The China Syndrome is a fiction. The idea is that if a nuclear reactor runs short of coolant the core will burn through its container and burrow all the way through the earth, coming out the other side, in China.

Don't try this at home.

Friday, 28 June 2013

G-Cloud – how to win

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, made an important speech yesterday.

The speech is covered on his award-winning GOV.UK website – Minister Francis Maude described how government is moving into a "new world" of technology procurement by opening up opportunities to SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises].

Every step of his argument is contentious.

Let's leave that for another day ...

... and content ourselves here with noting that, one way and another, Mr Maude gets round to saying that "one of our most successful innovations is the delivery of the G-Cloud framework, which embraces open procedures. This is a step change in the way government buys IT. It’s quicker, cheaper, more competitive and more accessible to SMEs ... As a result, of the 700 successful suppliers on the framework – 83% are SMEs" and:
For example, the Home office saved 83% on a hosting contract by contracting with Skyscape. Skyscape is an SME providing hosting and other IT support services – and were one of the first accredited suppliers on G-Cloud. They started as a small start-up with 6 people - and now employ over 30 as a direct result of the business they get through G-Cloud.
Out of 700 candidates, Mr Maude chooses Skyscape for his example.


Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Tragedy of the Commons

Public cloud benefits
outweigh security and data sovereignty risks,
says head of Parliament IT

Back in the 1970s, few organisations could afford their own computer. Timesharing bureaux grew up as a result. You'd nip round to your local IBM or Burroughs or ICL bureau with a deck of punched cards and a couple of tapes and come back with a printout. Timesharing wasn't cheap. But it made computing a bit more widely affordable.

That all changed with the advent of microcomputers and cheap high-speed telecommunications. The timesharing bureaux went out of business during the 1980s.

30 years later, they're back. Cloud computing suppliers are the timesharing bureaux de nos jours.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Wake up, Spectator

As you will know thanks to Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US and the UK's GCHQ have been intercepting hundreds of millions of people's communications.

Mr Snowden's revelations have been published in the Guardian from 6 June 2013 onwards and here in the UK the public have been thoroughly patronised ever since by all other major media outlets.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Digital-by-default – an eternal mystery?

In connection with the enquiry into digital-by-default, Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, Cabinet Office minister and Postmaster General, gave evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on Monday 17 June 2013:

There were many questions about digital-by-default before he gave his evidence – please see for example Digital-by-default, an open letter to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.

And having given his evidence now?

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Tomorrow – the distributed self

After the collapse in 2010 of the Home Office's ID cards scheme, the NIS (National Identity Service), Whitehall claimed to have learned the lesson.

The 20 September 2010 meeting for Whitehall and its suppliers made it clear that the whole idea of the NIS is now anathema and the Home Office are outcasts, whose contagious touch must be kept away from the new idea – identity assurance.

At the centre of the old NIS lay the National Identity Register, the NIR, a single database with one record per person enrolled into the scheme. At least, that was the plan. It never happened.

Talking to the Information Commissioner's Conference on 6 March 2012 about the new scheme, IDAP, the Identity Assurance Programme, Francis Maude, Cabinet Officer minister, said: "at no point does information need be held on the same server to be correlated".

No NIR. IDAP in the clear?


It's a conjuring trick.

Is data-sharing between consenting adults now legal?

Pat Russell is the Deputy Director of the Social Justice Division at the Department for Work and Pensions.

"Improved information sharing of personal and anonymised data between central government and local agencies – and between agencies on the ground", she says on the Institute for Government blog, "has been recognised as being vital to delivering better outcomes at lower cost".

Oh dear.

The Guardian newspaper said on 24 April 2012 that the government planned to increase the level of data-sharing and next day they were reprimanded by Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, for misrepresenting him.

"This is not a question of increasing the volume of data-sharing that takes place across government", he said, "but ensuring an appropriate framework is in place so that government can deliver more effective, joined-up and personalised public services, through effective data-linking".

Has Miss Russell fallen into the same trap of confusing data-sharing with the completely different business of data-linking? Will she, too, be reprimanded?

Sunday seems like a good day to ask "what is work?"

Towards the end of Jon Manel's report on the Government Digital Service which occupied five minutes of BBC Radio 4's World At One on 10 June 2013 he interviews an "evangelical preacher" called Stephen Kelly who is also the government's chief operating officer.

Mr Kelly says (30'58"-31'59") that it takes his computer seven minutes each day to boot up and that that's like three days a year wasted.

By a curious journalistic operation, Sue Cameron had pre-figured this comment of Mr Kelly's in her 5 June 2013 Telegraph article, Wash the dirty Whitehall linen in private, minister. "You have to ask if someone, somewhere is being economical with the truth", she says. "One insider tells me that, thanks to Mr Maude’s openness agenda, information about Whitehall PCs is easily available. He says the figures indicate that ... the average boot time is two minutes, not seven".

Mr Kelly is wrong about the "average boot time".

And that's not all he's wrong about.

Friday, 14 June 2013

GDS PR blitz

10 June 2013, the BBC Radio 4 world news programme World At One (WATO) carries a 5-minute report (27'32"-32'55") by Jon Manel on GDS, the Government Digital Service.

11 June 2013, WATO carries another 8 minutes (24'58"-32'55") of Mr Manel's report on GDS.

12 June 2013, Mr Manel publishes Inside the UK Government Digital Service on the BBC website.

13 June 2013, the Guardian publish a 6'50" video by Jemima how geeks opened up government featuring ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken (executive director, GDS), ex-BBC man Tom Loosemore (deputy director, GDS) and ex-Morgan Stanley man Francis Maude, their political boss (Cabinet Office minister).

What are GDS trying to tell us?

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Nothing better to do on Monday?

Highly recommended:
Select Committee Announcement

No. 10 (13-14): 13 June 2013

Digital by Default

The Science and Technology Committee will hold the following oral evidence session into ‘Digital by Default’:

Monday 17 June 2013
Thatcher Room, Portcullis House
At 4.15 pm

· Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General

Follow the Committee's business on Twitter @CommonsSTC


Committee Membership:
Andrew Miller (Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Chair)
Jim Dowd (Labour, Lewisham West and Penge)
Stephen Metcalfe (Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock)
David Morris (Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale)
Stephen Mosley (Conservative, City of Chester)
Pamela Nash (Labour, Airdrie and Shotts)
Sarah Newton (Conservative, Truro and Falmouth)
Graham Stringer (Labour, Blackley and Broughton)
David Tredinnick (Conservative, Bosworth)
Hywel Williams (Plaid Cymru, Arfon)
Roger Williams (Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire)

The session is open to the public on a first come, first served basis. Portcullis House is the building directly above Westminster Station, entrance to which is via Victoria Embankment. There is no system for the prior reservation of seats in Committee Rooms. It is advisable to allow about 30 minutes to pass through security checks. Committee rooms and the timing of meetings are subject to change.

Specific Committee information: / 020 7219 2793
Media information: Nick Davies / 020 7219 3297
Committee website:
Watch committees and parliamentary debates online:
Publications / Reports / Reference Material: Copies of all select committee reports are available from the Parliamentary Bookshop (12 Bridge St, Westminster, 020 7219 3890) or the Stationery Office (0845 7023474). Committee reports, press releases, evidence transcripts, Bills; research papers, a directory of MPs, plus Hansard (from 8am daily) and much more, can be found on

Monday, 10 June 2013

Digital-by-default, an open letter to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (updated)

Open letter

By email

10 June 2013

Dr Stephen McGinness
Committee Clerk
Science and Technology Committee
6th Floor
14 Tothill Street
House of Commons
London SW1H 9NB

Dear Dr McGinness
Digital by default
I refer to the Committee’s oral evidence session held on 5 June 2013.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

3 questions about GDS's bailiwick

The Major Projects Authority (MPA) has, as noted, delivered its public verdict on G-Cloud – amber/red.

G-Cloud is the major project designed to reduce government IT costs by outsourcing to cloud service suppliers (Skyscape et al) who currently charge less than the usual suspects, the systems integrators (CapGemini et al).

It's a worrying verdict. This is the MPA's definition of amber/red:
Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

He's all heart, Shakespeare

Forecasting future benefits is also hard to predict

Stephan Shakespeare, writing in An Independent Review of Public Sector Information, devotes one section to the question who owns public sector information.

In the opening paragraph of the section entitled Ownership (pp.28-33) Shakespeare says: "I think the time is now right to reflect on how the current models of ownership apply in the current context" (p.28).

We know from an earlier post the current result of his current reflections – please see Shakespeare's take on property. He wants to give all public sector information (PSI) to "businesses, especially SMEs". For free. Without charge.

What we're looking for in this section of his review is the reason for Shakespeare's recommended largesse. We're dealing with ownership here. Property law. And we're entitled to some more or less scholarly argument.

----- o O o -----

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Shakespeare gives evidence

After five posts on Stephan Shakespeare's An Independent Review of Public Sector Information you might think we'd finished.

Not a bit of it.

We've only just got to the Introduction (pp.19-20).

"The review", he tells us there, ...
... will consider the current and anticipated future needs for Government given the current policy objectives across departments and wider public sector bodies as well as the opportunities and challenges presented by rapidly developing technology in the area.
That's false.