3 thoughts on “Tom Reynolds: More Blood, More Sweat and Another Cup of Tea”

  1. Tom,

    Shortly after the 1997 election, the Information Age Government Champions were convened. This was a cross-departmental group of mid level civil servants, tasked with looking at how ICT could be better used in the public sector. Sadly, like so many of the initiatives started during the period 1997 to 2004, it faded – more likely, was made to fade by more senior people – and I declare a little of my background in this area here: via an IA Govt Champion, I carried out the technical edit for the published version of the 1999 Framework for Smart Cards in Government, a document never updated because successive contractors and civil servants without the necessary skills were given the task rather than hiring experts.

    Meanwhile other EU countries moved steadily ahead in the use of ICT, including ensuring that, all through the public sector, there are people knowledgeable and competent in the use of ICT, and in particular its use to serve the public – and the EC assisted, with the eEurope Initiative, with the European Citizen Card ideas (more difficult than they thought – the eEurope Smart Cards topic illustrated that, but they failed to follow it up).

    Your work has encouraged a huge improvement in the availability of large amounts of data, and in the development of not-for-profit services such as TheyWorkForYou and FixMyStreet. Behind the scenes a lot of professional work has been done in and for the public sector (particularly under the auspices of CSIA), and, during Gordon Brown’s period in charge, major improvements have been delivered – for example: DirectGov has got a lot better, Govt Gateway has been given to DWP and got a lot better, the UK end of project STORK has also been given to DWP. Longer term work in the background has pushed forward Information Assurance for internal services across central govt, but, as one observer put it to me recently, depts such as DfT and DCLG (being depts with which I and some associates have a good deal of interaction, both directly and indirectly) are not yet “on side” with IA. Even the IAAC has begun to realise that there is more to ICT than servers and internet linked PCs, but they neither know what to do nor ensure that those who do know are funded to train them.

    With Gordon Brown’s initiative in 2006 (hosted within OGC) producing a welcome modification to the “eyes were bigger that the stomach” plans for the ID Card project, we thought that a wider ranging uplift in competence in ICT in the public sector would start to appear in 2007, right across services to the public. Whether you were somehow given a poisoned chalice (in that the same powers that stopped things at the end of 2004 blocked you), or whether there was just nobody there to drive forward the necessary structural and personnel changes across the parts of the public sector that serve the public (including in local govt), I do not know, but 2 years on we have seen no plan, no implementation of IA policy (service quality and information security) in public services. There is a whole host of “best practice” material (the development of a lot of it having been assisted with public funds both here and from the EC), but most public servants don’t know it, and some key ones sadly do not care. The influence of the virtual dimension on our lives is now such that not only do we desperately need a public sector that understands it, but we also need protecting from the mistakes of the public sector. Who will protect us?

    Today I didn’t follow Question Time in the Commons, but saw on Sky a couple of the interviews straight after – the gist of them was that the PM put forward policies, while Cameron attacked personalities. Let us see those policies developed in detail as a way to make the public sector capable and again credible, and quick – and include in them the commitment to put in place a 3 year training programme for public sector personnel, right up to Perm Sec level, and the further commitment to stop that “my job is to satisfy the Minister” attitude of patch it up and move on.

  2. Do you know of any decent memoirs of former ministers coming out in time for Xmas?

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