Monday, February 20, 2006

Living The Future

Government e-Champions

Fellow e-citizens! As you all know, today is 51 pe.

Such a lot has happened since the Beloved Leader's Special Information Age Cabinet six years ago. Who can forget the moment when- flanked by CPO Commissar Hewitt and E-Government Minister Ian "Brains" McCartney- he ascended the People's dot. com Pulpit to inspire us with his breathtaking vision:

"I want the UK to be the world's leading Internet I am bringing forward our target for getting all Government services online to 2005...people and businesses will be able to access Government services 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Then of course, e-government was just an distant dream. Today we are living the glorious reality. 51 days since e-day, when all our dreams came true!

S0 shame then on those moaning minnies and mischief makers who will do anything to find fault.

People like Raw Carrot, who is pursuing the issue with an informed zeal that frankly has no place in e-government. For example, he reckons the E-Citizen National Project website is an expensive flop: "each visitor to the site costs more than £7, each post to the forum costs in excess of £1,000, and for £900,000 they learned that professional targeted marketing is the best way to professionally target marketing." He reckons it gets fewer hits than his own blog, which only cost him 35p.

That's clearly ludicrous- it would mean that a cornerstone e-government site designed, get us using other e-government sites, is an expensive flop. Put together by incompetents- a patently laughable notion.

Of course, we do accept another of Carrot's points, that actually only 97% of government has been e-enabled. The Deputy Prime Minister told us that, so it must be true. But we find it very difficult to believe that the remaining 3% comprises all the hard stuff, and that the 97% is only a list of phone numbers telling you who to call for more info. We think Carrot is trying to make mischief.

And what about another moaner- drawn to my attention by Guido- one Sam Smith. For some reason Sam and his mates decided to test the government's bespoke DirectGov information search engine against their own DirectionlessGov which just uses Google:

"In a direct comparison early in 2005, 75% of users, when shown results of search queries side by side, selected a result from Google (limited to domains) over the specialised £4.4m portal"

So Google's better than I ask you, what's that supposed to prove? Smith's comparing the tried and tested technology of the world's very best internet search engine with something lashed together in conditions of utmost secrecy by government e-Champions under the direction of "Brains" McCartney. Hardly a fair comparison I suggest.

I rest my case.

Reality Check: e-government as implemented in the UK is little more than another hugely expensive PR stunt. A recent report from the Adam Smith Institute concludes the "strategy is fragmented and producer driven, will never deliver its full potential benefits to the public", and compares very poorly with the approach followed in other countries, such as Estonia.

So what's it cost us? As always, government figures are scarce. However, one estimate in 2004 from Kable, a research company which tracks public sector ICT spending, put the cost at £7.4 billion up to 2006. "Since 2001, the e-government gusher has been spouting at an average rate of £1.5bn a year. Central government's share of the total will be some £4.4bn, local government £3bn." But the Kable figures don't include education, health and defence.

A more recent siting shot comes from Society of IT Management’s annual IT Trends survey published in December. "Months before the local e-Government programme in England draws to a close in April 2006, the survey report says that local councils have spent in excess of £13bn on ICT over the past five years, an increase in resources of £2bn after taking account of inflation. Spending in 2005/6 has risen by 23% to £3.3 billion pa."

Which suggests the Kable figure needs updating. Overall it seems unlikely we taxpayers got much change out of £10bn. And that's just for a few simple departmental and local authority informational websites that nobody actually needs. Once you start to go after interactivity in areas that people really do need- ie real government- you start getting into the sort of horror we're facing with the £50bn NPfIT programme for the NHS.

Please. Let's just stop now. We can't afford any more future.

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