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Kafka on eGovernment

Every now and then, a week comes along which encourages a wry smile at the awful seriousness of the IT industry. My own started on Sunday, watching Chancellor, Gordon Brown being interviewed by a doddery and ever so humble David Frost.

Gordon cheerfully identified the IT industry as the villain behind the present global recession and ignoring Frost’s mumbled plea for common sense, insisted, for reasons of fiscal prudence, that he had to raise national insurance contributions, to fund the “expensive new technology” for the national health service, which any of us in working in IT suspects, has very little to do with doctors and nurses and rather more to do with ‘joining-up’ the eight, very expensive administrative managers required to support every ten underpaid nurses.

The Frost interview followed a survey, last week, of electronic public services in Europe, conducted by Cap Gemini Ernst & Young on behalf of the European Commission which claims that European e-societies are making good progress in the provision of on-line services but could do better. No surprises there.

Most recently, here in the UK, we were claiming that while the delivery and speed of both our national cricket team and health service could be improved, we were, after all leaders in the development of transactional eGovernment, setting the run-rate for other governments to follow. Unfortunately, we’ve been overtaken by Ireland and Sweden, neither one a cricketing nation but both offering a better pace of delivery when it comes to offering transactional services on-line.

What’s interesting perhaps is that amid all the talk of the citizen as ‘customer’, a gap is apparently appearing between on-line services aimed at businesses and those aimed at citizens or in other words and from a European perspective, more effort is being devoted to the provision of services to business than services to people. And so, while Britain glows white hot on the customer-oriented service message, even if the customers aren’t particularly interested in what it has to offer, Euroland would rather maintain a long public service tradition, which involves keeping its citizens at arms-length in order to maintain the best Kafkaesque traditions of government in countries like France and Germany.

Franz Kafka

But the question that’s on the minds of most people echoes that which used to be asked in Russia in the bad old days before Glasnost. "When will we achieve ‘Perfect Communism”? Three years farther down the road of this Parliament, does anyone believe that spending an extra three billion on NHS technology or another few hundred million spent on giving ever civil servant a laptop will make a tangible difference to both the quality and cost of public services or in the race to find a silver bullet are we losing touch with common sense?

Do tell me, I have been invited to a meeting to discuss just this question at the European Parliament building next Monday and I would like to know what you think?


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