Archive for Bureaucrats
I was a little upset, mildly speaking, when a twitter user @pickledpolitics, who appears to write for The Guardian posed the question,
How does blog hosting impact your legal situation?
and quoted a so called ‘important’ political blogger on UK politics, who goes by the name of Guido Fawkes.
These two people set themselves up as relevant and important bloggers in the UK. Pickledpolitics – Sunny – has, to his credit actually got off his arse and attended a climate camp demo. But as far as I am aware that consisted of the Greenwich, happy clap demo in September, where even the Police got bored.
Paul Staines- Guido Fawkes – who knows what he has done apart from set up a barrier against prosecution, apart from this possible relationship
I digress a little…..
Pickledpolitics posed the question, should bloggers be worried about legal consequence and he was impressed that Mr. Staines had a convoluted legal set-up which protects him from legal action.
Unfortunately the convoluted process is too difficult for Mr. Staines to follow.
‘…Factual correction: I am not legally the publisher. I also mispoke in that interview, the publisher is actually in Nevis, which is not that far from the Caymans. Got offshore entities muddled.
Real inspiration and innovation isn’t driven by generating large profits as the story of William Kamkwamba demonstrates all too clearly.
The absolute drive to find a solution is a superb model it would be good to see applied more frequently in the UK.
We have quangos, development agencies, politicians, relief funds and who knows what else aiming to create ever more complex solutions to simple questions.
William took an old book and changed his life and that of his family and village. Not through massive infrastructure projects, but by identifying a need and developing a solution.
While I am sure many people involved in regeneration projects are keen to provide solutions, it does often appear as though many of those solutions come from blue sky thinking and are not driven from bottom up planning.
If there was less pontification and more conversation with those facing problems, then practical faster solutions may well be forthcoming.
Like dinosaurs slogging it out to the end, the two major political parties in the UK are determined to tear chunks out of each other, while the rest of the Country keeps evolving.
Having seen the debacle of Government being responsible for data security, the Conservative Party have managed to come up with a new wheeze, claiming that Google is a far more appropriate guardian of our data and in particular our medical data.
On the face of it, anyone other than a Government Department corralling data, ready to be left on some-ones lap top while it in turn is left in the boot of their car, may seem more appropriate.
The Tory Party are attempting to portray themselves as the denizens of IT probity, seeking to scratch some cheap political scar on the wheezing Labour Government. However their new sheepskin coats just hide another wolf, keen to reveal as much information about individuals as the Labour machine.
I wouldn’t like to suggest the Tories don’t know what they are talking about, so I can only assume they are well aware of Cloud Computing and the H.R. 3162, the ‘USA PATRIOT Act’ and subsequent amendments.
The Act, among a host of other issues provides for US agents to look at any computer record held on American soil, without need for any suspicion of criminal activity, it also enables data handlers, to be forced to hand over all the information held on file.
This isn’t some long-shot concern. Canadian government IT organizations are told not to use services which store or host the government’s data outside their sovereign territory. They especially are not to use services where data is stored in the United States because of fears over the Patriot Act.
The Tories appear to: not care; have some reason for wishing Data to be stored under the jurisdiction of foreign Governments; or are too busy warrign with Labour to look beyond the Wesminster parapet.
The US+EU’s Safe Harbor program allows US companies to certify that they are correctly handling the data of EU citizens. This is to comply with the EU data protection standards. The safe harbour programme is not of much reassurance and of no value if data is stored in Russia, for example.
Let’s assume that the data is stored not in the USA, rather in say, one of the Google data centres in Russia, or China. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Russia decides they too would like a ‘Patriot Act’ and go about checking the medical records of senior politicians, judiciary, Military and Intelligence services and manage to find some embarrassing trips to consultants. I wonder what joy they would have with that data.
Well Google can store all the data in the UK and all will be well, slight problem on that one. The UK is hardly awash with Google data centres and building another one isn’t a cheap proposition, each data centre project has an estimated cost of US$600 million.
The Google model of cloud computing is designed for far larger data storage and retrieval than the medical records of the UK population and choosing a provider which is ultimately regulated by a foreign Government seems absolutely ridiculous. In addition Google is working towards software layers that automatically move loads between data centres, thereby circumventing any ‘national boundary’.
I am amazed that the Labour Government didn’t jump aboard the cloud computing band wagon sometime ago, as they could have quietly asked the US Government to look up any file for any citizen in the UK, to which they would normally have to go through judicial process.
The new mantra spouted by politicians is ‘we have to make difficult decisions’, the use of the term ‘difficult decisions’ is nothing more than PR speak and has already worn thin, it is a way that Politicians can act as though this is something being foisted on them, over which they have no control and if only they could, they would spend unlimited amounts of money on everything.
The fact is that expenditure in the UK is higher than income and this is always a distinct possibility as potential demands for expenditure will always exceed income. These so called ‘difficult decisions’ are being taken all the time. The British people are not idiots and are well aware that cuts need to be made.
For many years the, spend now – pay later culture has pervaded both in personal households and also by Government. The abrupt collapse in the financial system has brought this failure to balance the books to the fore.
To argue about what should have been done and how to get out of this mess are a separate debate and should not be confused with the essential aspect. Finances in the UK are limited and should be spent more efficiently and in a more targeted manner.
On a personal level, individuals are reluctant to see taxes rise and a governmental level; politicians are reluctant to cut spending, so we have an imbalance.
The discussion needs to centre around what drives people to be so self focussed when it comes to their taxes, but so socially conscious when it comes to government expenditure. Efficiencies should be made across Government Departments and public sector expenditure. I am sure many people in the UK can identify examples of wasted money, be it in grandiose buildings, PFI inefficiencies, Quangos, etc. but these are issues tinkering around the edges.
The discussion needs to focus on the core expenditure of this country.
The NHS eats vast chunks of money in all sorts of programmes. We perhaps need to revise our expectations about the NHS, what is it and what is it not.
There is a debate to open as to whether the NHS should be spending money on treatments such as IVF, Cosmetic Surgery, and leading edge research. Should the NHS provide palliative care, or only treatments? Should parts of the NHS treatment process become means tested. Is the NHS responsible for treatment of those with self imposed conditions, such as drinkers, the obese, smokers etc?
It is ridiculous for the users of the NHS to demand ever increasing ranges of treatment, yet at the same time expect to pay ever decreasing taxes.
The Defence budget is another huge expenditure area. The UK continues to seek to play a role as a major world power, on a budget which doesn’t cover the costs. Should we be seeking to have a Military which is able to respond to conflict around the world, or should we scale back to become a defence of the country? Should the UK seek to remain a nuclear force, or should it move away from this?
Having a world class fighting force, requires money, can the country afford it and should we strive to have a military which is able to respond in a meaningful way to world conflicts.
The education system is another area with a large budget. What are the aims of our education system and why. Do we need larger schools, do we need more schools? Should children be made to stay in state funded education until the age of 18? Should University education be funded by the tax payer, or the student?
Looking at climate change, how should the country focus on the issue? Should it even focus on the issue? Should fossil fuels be taxed at a higher rate and the money invested in alternative sources of energy or should alternative energy research and development be funded through indirect taxes. Is there any need to focus on alternative energy? Should people be incentivised to become ‘greener’, or penalised for not becoming ‘greener’? Should any money needed to be spent on the issue of climate change or is this a choice individuals should be making?
There are other big areas of expenditure, this is only a short list and not necessarily the most important, until the ‘sacrosanct’ are identified, trying to balance budgets is nothing more than hot air. Not only do Politicians need to look at this issue, but individuals must accept their own financial responsibility in the process. Demanding more services yet throwing hands up in horror at the idea of higher taxes is a ridiculous starting point.
This country needs to limit expenditure and individuals needs to consider whether the reluctance of people and business to pay higher taxes, means we are absolving Public Services from the responsibility for providing services.
The discussion needs to be open and those with free market attitudes who would prefer to head towards a system of limited centrally provided services, need to be honest with themselves, about the reality of that type of society. Those who would prefer a system in which all services are freely available to all and provided centrally again need to step up to the plate and accept the reality of their position.
Burying heads in the sand and expecting the state to provide all to everyone for free at point of delivery yet refusing to pay for it is a road to nowhere and in reality is unachievable. There is limited income and therefore there has to be limited expenditure. The questions are what money should be spent on and how much are we prepared to pay, at that point budgets can actually be balanced.
Politicians have a role in this debate by being honest about cost implications; people have a responsibility to accept their role in funding those costs.
In the UK there are estimated to be 1162 Quango’s with an annual combined budget of £64 billion, with approximately 700,000 bureaucrats employed.
In 2003, the Government announced they would print the full list of Quango’s, but 6 years later, that list is still yet to be seen.
The Learning and skills council employs 3,700 staff and has an annual budget of over £10 billion.
In July 2003, the Select Committee on Public Administration found that only one in six Quango’s run by central government were subject to regulation. Very significantly, appointments to most local Quango’s are not regulated at all, other than those to NHS bodies, and these tend to be filled by word of mouth within business, political and other networks.
Gordon Brown promised a ‘…bonfire of the Quango’s…’ before Labour came to power, claiming that they were ‘..often government in secret, free from full public scrutiny…’. But 13 out of 16 Whitehall departments failed to reduce their spending on Quango’s and seven departments have created new ones, with more in the pipeline.
Let’s look specifically at why the Learning Skills Council is a good example of why Quango’s are rotten.
According to Sir Andrew Foster’s government-commissioned review:
LSC were responsible for running the Building Colleges for the Future programme. The LSC had approved £2.5billion of capital projects proposed by further education colleges, but then deferred final approval after realising it did not have the money for the projects.
As a result of the initial approval, some of the Colleges started to spend the money on their projects, with buildings being gutted or demolished prior to the LSC announcing their ‘mistake’. In total 144 colleges have been affected by this abject failure. As a further damning indictment, it has been suggested that these problems were known as long ago as February 2008, yet the LSC continued to approve projects.A share of the blame sits squarely with John Denham, who is the Minister responsible for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. But of course as a Quango Denham insists it really is nothing to do with him.
The Government’s decision to abolish the LSC from next year, and to separate the Department for Education into two departments covering schools and universities, is partly to blame according to Foster, who added:
‘Preoccupation with organisational change distracted attention from core ongoing business…people took their eyes off the ball…’
Local LSC teams actively solicited projects from colleges and worked with college principals to turn more proposals into wholesale upgrading.
The TLA culture of Qango’s is quite overwhelming. The LSC BCF is expected to be transferred to the PSC BSF.
In real language this means:
In a wonderful Governmental twist the colleges affected by the failed BCF (Building Colleges for the future programme) could find themselves being transferred to yet another Quango: the Partnership for Schools, who run another building project budget called, Building Schools for the Future.
In another LSC failure
The LSC has also failed to calculate the numbers of students moving in to six forms colleges, which has led to chronic underfunding.The Department for Children, Schools and Families, under Ed Balls, introduced legislation to raise the education leaving age from 16 to 18, yet failed to give schools and colleges the money they needed to make these reforms a reality. Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, was unable to explain why neither his department nor LSC managed to work out that pupil numbers would rise. It is expected that this shortfall will affect 35 000 students.
The LSC’s projections were that the numbers of 16 to 18 year olds in colleges in England (786,000) would be the same next year as this, and the numbers staying on in sixth forms would fall from 383,000 to 372,000.
A letter sent out by the LSC at the beginning of March had appeared to say that schools would be funded in line with their predicted rise in student numbers for next year. In a statement, the LSC said: ‘..It is clear that our letter of March 2 to schools has caused them confusion and concern, for which we apologise….’
We have Government departments making policy decisions and failing to understand the ramifications and Quango’s, for which there is no democratic accountability, wasting billions of pounds of money. Yet no Government Minister is going to take responsibility for the farrago of capital projects or under funding of sixth for colleges and schools.