Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Power to the People!!

I had seen the warning letter regarding transparency from Prime Minister David Cameron to Government departments on plans to open up Government data. This was back at the start of summer. I read it and thought that someone had hacked into Government files and produced it as a laugh. Then, yesterday we got the words from the asses mouth. "The transparency website brings together a range of information - including basic details of ministers' meetings, hospitality, gifts and overseas travel, timetables for implementing policies, staffing structures and salary ranges for top civil servants, some of which was already publicly available but was published separately" My first thought was that we website had been knocked out by the junior at some India-based help centre in his tea break. It requires downloads - speedy it ain't. The colours are garish - factual documents do not require technicolour. I had a quick peek at one - Department for International Development - Minister's Gifts - the data is missing. What are they hiding? Rt Hon Michael Gove hasn't had any meetings since July 2010, apparently. I may have scanned through it quickly - my disbelief overcame my interest - but I see no method whereby any Department collates queries and comments so as to answer questions raised. If taken centrally, who distributes them to the appropriate civil servant? If there is a mechanism for querying things directly, how would I know to whom I might address my questions. Everything has to be prepared, collated and checked by someone who posts it to the website. A fine paper-chase that surely will require increasing head counts and dilution of job savings elsewhere in the Westminster machine.

I then looked at some of the detail. The right to know extends into local council planning. Local government spending transparency. New items of local government spending over £500 to be published on a council-by-council basis from January 2011. New local government contracts and tender documents for expenditure over £500 to be published in full from January 2011. The £500 threshold seems incredibly low and will again - I assume - put an extra workload on council staff made more onerous by savings on payroll costs by shedding workers. It appears I will also be able to view tender documents. I handled many such invitations to tender and there is often doubt as to the exact requirement. The anoraks and self-declared experts will be in a position to ask for an explanation for any project ranging from why it is wanted, right through to "why not use MDF in place of the tender specification for plywood?" If we are permitted to know what is in a tender, should we not be able to view and comment upon the responses and bids from contractors?

Announcing the new measures yesterday, Cameron said "We will be the first government in a generation to leave office with much less power in Whitehall than we started with. We are going to take power from government and hand it to people, families and communities – and how we will do that is set out right here in these Business Plans." I cannot understand what is the point of "We will be the first government in a generation to leave office with much less power in Whitehall than we started with" 'Power to the people' was a rallying call in a bygone TV series but Citizen Smith was not a role model. I was under the impression last time I voted that I was stating a preference for someone who would be part of a government that would adhere to their overall role of defending the Realm. If the intention was to reduce their oversight and hand it over to some few million citizens, what will those who lounge on the red or green benches be doing? Whence will come the proper and considered debate if their control is lessened - what would be my neighbour's wishes if someone has WMD on 45 minute deployment? Over As recently as 20th October 2010, 60% of the population stated that we should not be in Afghanistan. So why are we still there?

There may well be a element of Bread & Circuses in the new idea. Whilst we are caught up in demanding to know what happened to the gold Rolex gifted to Minister X by Sheik Shantytown we will not be aware of whatever dodgy plan is being put together. Our concerns for the aged, the sick and long-term unemployed (unemployable?) will be diverted.

Bugger Power to the People - if they should ever really want it, they know how to go about it

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