Monday, December 11, 2006

Diversionary tactics

The government has announced plans for a name'n'shame website for parents who don't pay maintenance, a tactic that sounds perilously close to the age-old defence of blustering one's way out of awkward questions.

Don't get us wrong: we have scant sympathy for anyone who uses hindsight as a basis for deciding that they don't want children and will therefore wash their hands of responsibility, but we're equally appalled that the government uses tabloid headlines and shouts of "look over there!" to dodge what should be a volley of criticism for the great IT disaster that is the CSA.

The system was introduced in 1993, and as the DWP's permanent secretary, Leigh Lewis, told the public accounts committee a
couple of months ago:
"It started with a design that was too complex, which was introduced too quickly, with IT which was never until recently effective, and with too many changes of course and direction"
Attempts were made to reform the system in 2003, and went ahead - despite an official audit that found 14 critical defects with the new IT system. Needless to say, the reforms were useless:
"The task was more complex and difficult than anyone realised - it was probably at the edge of being undoable"
And that's the real problem with government IT projects: a dangerous combination of hubris, impatience and fantasy about the capabilities of IT. Just take a look at this review from Computer Weekly to get an idea of the scale of the problem.

Undaunted, the government proposes to press ahead with its system of interlinked databases containing the details of every child in England. Not only the 'basic details' that will go on the Information-Sharing Index, but the entire record of a child's interactions with social services (the Integrated Children's System) and the results of a comprehensive personal profiling process (the eCAF database).

In an astonishing display of either ignorance or arrogance - it's hard to say which - the government also proposes to push through the regulations that will allow the creation of the Information Sharing Index before consultation on the rules that will govern the security of the database has even finished - in other words, parliament will be asked to sign yet another blank cheque, trusting that the government will get it right. Quite honestly, the omens aren't good.


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