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eGovernment - Read the Small Print First 
 
Britain isn’t alone worrying about the creeping growth of red-tape and regulatory interference that even eGovernment only appears to fuel with greater enthusiasm from Whitehall.
 

 
Europe we all know about to our collective cost, the Euro-banana playing its own vital part in European Union enlargement but in the United States too, The Washington Times, this month expressed its concern at ‘Regulation therapy’, asking readers if they believed that the benefits of government regulation should exceed their costs?  It reminded its readers that in 1937, a presidential commission told Franklin D. Roosevelt that all the new regulatory agencies he had created under the ‘New Deal’, constituted, "a headless fourth branch of government, a haphazard deposit of irresponsible agencies and uncoordinated powers" and that was without a Ministry of Constitutional Affairs; part of a another new deal, on this side of the Atlantic, which has had fifteen new regulations created every day since 1997.
 
Ambitious and expensive eGovernment projects were supposed to have reduced the bureaucratic creep of central government or at least, that’s what I thought in my own naivety when I was involved with the Cabinet Office when it first became excited at the prospect of ‘eGovernment at its best’.  Instead, I see a great many useful websites that few people bother to visit and the appearance of a society where eGovernment is good for them and of little real value to us and where for every job the private sector lost last year, the public sector took on almost two jobs, not quite the lean, mean digitally streamlined government I had in mind in 2000
 
There is massive scepticism in the competence of government and its suppliers to deliver the savings and efficiency improvements being promised. Too few government regulations are subjected to rigorous cost-benefit tests and even with the pieces in place, such as the Gateway Review process, e-Gif standards and Framework Contracts, Whitehall appears trapped on a well-worn path to failure, as one ‘Transformation’ exercise follows another into a bottomless pit of consultancy fees and taxpayers expenditure; Pathway, The CSA, The DSS Operational Strategy, The National Plan for Health Service IT and ultimately, the ill-considered plans for a National ID card .
 
Of course, all central government programmes should pass through the full Gateway process with the comments on those which go forward made available to the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee and I agree with the sensible argument that the details of winning bids, including performance monitoring and change control processes should  be placed in the public domain unless they affect national security and not possibly  the MOD drinks and entertainment budget, which my wife, who used to be an MOD press officer, tells me is an official secret.
 
A week ago, the Chancellor, who has a touching faith in technology, told MPs that the Government's £6 billion investment in ICT had allowed a gross reduction of 84,150 public sector posts in England, almost double that announced in the last Budget. After re-deployment of staff, the net loss will be 70,600 jobs.  As a somewhat cynical and jaded observer, I would comment that given Government’s record of managing IT to date; hell is likely to freeze over before Gordon Brown achieves even 10% of his target. Instead, I’ll remind you, that last year, 88,000 extra people were employed to work in education; just 14,000 of these were teachers or teaching assistants and as a result, I expect Gordon’s trust in IT to drive a net increase in civil servants in the short term at least.
 
Isn’t eGovernment a wonderful thing?


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