A couple of days ago David Lacey covered the recent Parliament and Internet conference in his blog. The proposal for co-operation in the paper issued in advance of the conference break-out session on “Tackling crime and achieving confidence in the on-line world”, chaired by the Rt Hon Alun Michael JP MP, was strongly supported by the audience, including by David. I, like David, was also profoundly impressed by the presentation by Nicholas Negroponte: not just by its potential to transform the prospects of children in the developing but also by its potential to change the nature of debate on security and cybercrime – and more – much more.
The Transformational Government agenda is the most ambitious attempt to change the way government works since Sir John Hoskyns tried to apply systems thinking to Whitehall in the first days of Mrs Thatcher’s government. Many commentators were therefore very sceptical as to its chances of success. The Service Transformation Agreement published as part of the support package for the Comprehensive Spending Review shows that the sceptics were both right and wrong. The task cannot be under-estimated but there now appears to be the necessary critical mass of support to enable success.
Last week I attended the Westminster E-Forum Keynote Seminar “A UK IT Skills Gap?”. Most of the discussion could have taken place in 1983, before the Butcher reports on IT Skills – but for the fact that our position, relative to the rest of the world, is so much worse and the minister who responded to the discussion did not appear to have been briefed on the scale and nature of the challenge.
The Byron Review is an independent review of the risks to children from exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games. At this point the blogosphere will erupt with cries of “censorship” while parents will say “about time too”, Lets hope that Dr Tanya Byron comes up with something that is at least as practical and sensible as in her TV programmes.
Apart from bad jokes, in which IT was synonymous with failure and/or coplexity and unreliabilty, there was almost no mention at any of the Party Conferences of the technologies that now underpin society at every level. More-over almost no-one from the IT industry attended – even though it supposedly now employs nearly 5% of the work force. And most of those who did attend were careful not to mention their day jobs. Are you really so ashamed?
The public service agreements for the 2007 comprehensive review require departments and agencies to work across boundaries in ways that will not happen unless departments and their suppliers really do move away from the failed world of “big bang” solutions, whether in-house or outsourced. Will we see the creation of a new generation of the hire purchase (alias PFI) contracts that have enriched a generation of consultants, lawyes and salesmen at the expense of taxpayers, service recipients and shareholders alike. Or have politicians (including Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and Policy Advisors) finally come to understand that it is not humanly possible to agree specifications for timely and efficient, centrally planned and controlled, user-centric systems? But who will tell them them that – when so many senior players made their reputations telling them the opposite.
The next general election “will be won or lost in 80 marginal constituencies where the number of knowledge economy jobs at risk from global competition is greater than the majority of the incumbent MP”.
Over 400 delegates attended a fringe meeting addressed by the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry (Patrick now Lord Jenkin) and Education and Science (Norman, now Lord Tebbit) on the critical importance of IT to the UK economy at the Conservative Party Conference in 1982. Over twenty IT companies had stands outside to reinforce that message
Then IT was seen as the “metatechnology” of the future. Today it really does underpin society. But the only IT-related fringe meetings at the conference this year appear to be those on the need to balance the war against terror and civil liberties within the ippr , programme, on the perils of electronic voting from the Openrights Group and on Avoiding Computer Aided Catastrophe (alias the need for a joined up approach to information assurance), organised by the Conservative Technology Forum . Few ICT suppliers are exhibiting at the conferences and most no longer have any public affairs or political relations staff to send.
LIttle wonder we do not have well informed political debate on matters IT
In the early 1980s the UK IT industry punched well above its weight politically. IT was seen as “the metatechnology of the new age” and major computer users, not just suppliers, were politically active on issues of concern. Today society is critically dependent on ICT but IT punches well below its weight politically. Why?