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 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".

Saturday, 24 May 2014

GDS, G-Cloud, user needs and security

How would you make G-Cloud less attractive
and slow down take-up even more?

All change round at G-Cloud. Again.

They're full of surprises.

Especially since they came under the control of the Government Digital Service (GDS) on 1 June 2013.

So what is it this time?

Accreditation. It's on the way out.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Can website designers "challenge" UK government policy?

Writing 18 months ago about Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox's call for a revolution in the UK, we noted among others this demand:
Directgov should own the citizen experience of digital public services and be tasked with driving a 'service culture' across government which could, for example, challenge any policy and practice that undermines good service design.
In the event, the revolutionary cadre implementing the new dispensation is GDS, the Government Digital Service, and not Directgov. GDS's skill lies in designing websites. Can website designers "challenge" UK government policy?

Monday, 19 May 2014

RIP IDA – mooncalf economics

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.


3 December 2011
It's two-and-a-half years since we first looked at Ctrl-Shift Ltd, the consultancy firm.

They had recently published a report, The new personal data landscape. Their claim was that national economic growth will be achieved if only we all of us make it easier for companies to know all about us. If we would just release all of our personal data, then "Ctrl-Shift’s research finds that the market for these new streams of information could grow to be worth £20bn in the UK over the next ten years" (p.14).

Friday, 16 May 2014

GDS and security, Mae West and Estonia (Mae Westonia?)

Who cares?
The latest example of GDS's inability
to take security seriously

Servicemen during the Second World War kept their morale up in many ways. Among others by having pin-ups, dear old Mae West among them.

70 years later, the wars are different, sentiment has moved on and the front line in digital services has a new pin-up – Estonia.

Some things never change, of course. The fascination with vital statistics, for example – only the other day, there was Jordan Hatch of GDS, the UK Government Digital Service, transfixed by Estonia's dashboard :)

Monday, 12 May 2014

GDS's achievement

That was GDS's proud claim made at the Sprint 14 celebration this year – "we've achieved so much". But is it true?

GDS is the Government Digital Service and their mission is to transform government by making public services digital by default – "we are the show", said their executive director, Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE, in a speech (17'39") to the Code for America conference last October. Is that true? Are GDS the show?