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November 21, 2007


Mark Brinkley

Less government? Isn't that a bit right wing for a left wing blogger?


I knew this post was in the post as soon as I saw the story about the lost data yesterday.

There is certainly a case that the standard of public sector management has declined so much in this country since the Next Steps Agencies in the 1980s - and the constant round of restructuring and reorganisation. Getting consultants to advise on how restructuring can be done is asking for trouble.

It's a political problem alright. Politicians aren't prepared to either raise taxes or cut their promises. That's because they spend too much of their time worrying about pledges.


I don't think this was a policy error - deeply though I despise Brown.

The problem is operational - and on this I don't blame the staff. If you've ever been involved in operational departments, you'll know that staff find shortcuts round the system, and the answer to that is not more memos about policy, it is to change the system. If it's too bureaucratic to do something properly, you either make it really difficult to shortcut, but that'll screw up the whole business or, better, you change the system. You could change the IT so certain requests automatically download in encrypted form, or up grade your communications so as avoid downloading or....

How many other CDs are missing? The ones we've heard about are the ones that have been found out. I wonder what the internal audit reports look like? If I was the Tories or Vince Cable I'd be asking to see these as a matter of urgency - there'll be lots of damaging statements in them.

Marcin Tustin

As this is the second time in a year that this has happened, it's at least worth asking if someone should have adopted a different policy on how to transfer data.


If you use radioactive materials there is extensive procedures to go through to get the material, checks on its use and being returned, and inspections and audits of the material.

There are people in the MOD who have to shut down their PC's before they can go to the toilet, and who work in finger-print controlled-access rooms.

So the fact that my wife's bank details were freely available to junior civil servants in unencrypted form is a policy decision: Our government has decided our secrets are not worthy of the security that their own state secrets warrant.


"You can't blame the government for every stupid underling."

I can blame it for the fact that one stupid underling can cause such trouble.

And it occurs to me that that stupid underling could have made two copies of the file, and kept one of them. This is not a reassuring thought.

Bob B

"The state employs 5.78 million people."

Yes - but "There are currently 505,160 (FTE) civil servants, of which just over half (53 per cent) are women (QPSES Q2, 2007)."

Contrary to popular mythology, "Members of the Civil Service are 18 per cent London-based, with the rest working in offices throughout the UK."

And only some 12 per cent of the civil service works in central London.

By reports, "The entire child benefit database was sent via internal mail by a junior official from HMRC in Washington, Tyne and Wear, to the audit office in London via courier TNT on 18 October."

- which tends to confirm the reservations some have long had about the good sense of devolving more and more of the civil service with their functions away from London.

"London is bankrolling less affluent areas of the country to the tune of more than £13bn a year, new research reveals today.

"The report from Oxford Economics, an independent think-tank, shows that the average person living or working in the capital pays about £1,740 a year more in tax than he or she gets back in public spending on infrastructure such as roads and schools. The South-east and East Anglia contribute more than £1,000 a head to the nation's coffers each year, while the rest of the country is a drain on Whitehall."


Yes, it really proves that it is time to move the capital from London. Berwick, my boys, that's the place.

Mike Woodhouse

If we accept that "procedures" can't be watertight, and I rather think that evidence suggests that we should, then we have to consider whether it is therefore sensible, advisable and - dare I say "prudent" - to put policies in place that, in the inevitable event of procedural breakdown, will prove to be damaging on an industrial scale.

I wonder how the implementation of policy would change if a realistic assessment of risk were to be undertaken before anything reached the stature book? But I don't suppose we'll ever know.

(The question of whether sentences as long as the opening one above should be controlled under legislation may also be worthy of consideration).

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