Monday, January 15, 2007

Tony Blair and the Whelk Stall

Johann Hari in the Indy asks: When the Government acts, why do we always assume there is something to fear?

He's talking about the Prime Minister's proposed new super-database, which will unite all the Government Departments and "provide better public services".

Hari thinks that there are several "people who will ritually jerk their knees today by declaring that Tony Blair's proposals for a simple centralised Whitehall database are "a step towards tyranny"".

Hmm, maybe he's right, although I'm not sure caring about the information the Government carries on each of us is a ritual knee-jerk, rather a rational reaction to a shift in the State-Individual relationship (they're supposed to serve us, remember, not the other way round).

The real concern about this is on a practical level. The Government has shown it is not particularly good at managing its databases and using the information held therein. I think the words "Home Office" speak for themselves on this and I don't assume that any other Department operates at a much greater level of efficiency (the Government's own example cites a person who made 44 calls over 6 months to get some information about a road death: this shows the people we already have are not doing their jobs - or are not trained to do their jobs - properly). Goodness only knows how much wastage there is in the Departments of Work and Pensions, Health, Education and the rest, but we might want to start by cleaning things up there before bringing in an expensive, new, unproven system.

My question is this: given that the different Departments aren't running their own whelk stalls particularly well, why should we let the same people loose on a whelk supermarket, especially one that will cost billions (yes, billions) to the humble taxpayer?

1 comment:

Not Saussure said...

What have you got against the proprietors of whelk-stalls? They're dealing with highly perishable stock, so they have to be able to judge their customers' requirements very accurately and take great care over its storage and conditions of sale, in difficult conditions that are highly regulated. They've also got to cope with the difficulties attendant on running any small business.

Would you buy whelks or any other form of shellfish from a member of this or any other government?