How to spend £7bn

January 14, 2008


Ideal Government has some edited highlights of the Public Accounts Committee’s grilling of the Director of Transformational Government. (In case you’re wondering, ‘Transformational Government’ is the name given to the master plan to join up all our records and share the information contained in them).

Some beer-mat calculations of our own reveal that the £7bn apparently required to staff Transformational Government could usefully plug the shortage of 2,000 social workers, 5,000 midwives and 5,000 health visitors. It could also supply computer equipment to every child in England – and still leave £4bn in loose change.


A Niemoeller moment

January 13, 2008


…or ‘why you should be worried about eCAF, even if you don’t have children and never intend to do so’.

The government has just brought out a paper entitled: ‘Think Family – improving the life chances of families at risk’

It invites local authorities to become ‘family pathfinder projects’ in a scheme to share information about all members of a family thought to be ‘at risk’. At risk of what?

“Families at risk is a shorthand term for families with multiple and complex problems such as worklessness, poor mental health or substance misuse. Our focus includes those who already have complex and ongoing problems as well as those who are at risk of developing them.”

The paper suggests that the eCAF is a good starting point for identifying parents and other family members who are ‘at risk’:

“For individuals with multiple needs, an overarching assessment should bring together pieces of information that would otherwise be scattered across the system. Frontline practitioners should build on this knowledge base when reviewing progress or designing support. This assessment process should build on progress made through the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) for children and young people, implemented as part of the Every Child Matters agenda. The CAF provides a shared and holistic assessment for children and young people with additional needs. It takes account of family risk factors and can therefore also help to identify and direct support towards the unmet needs of other family members – a parent’s learning disability, or an older sibling’s substance misuse, for example.”

Children are to become the access point to the family in order to find out what’s going on – or what might happen in the future – behind closed doors. It’s not only families, either. The document refers in passing to the plans to develop the eCAF in adult services in order to bring together health and social care data on elderly people and those with mental health problems. There aren’t going to be many people left to protest once they start rolling eCAF out to everyone else.

It only took 20 years

January 10, 2008

Following on from our last mention of the subject, the government is at last promising to do something about young runaways:

Changes include plans for a network of safe places across the country where runaways can find shelter; new guidance for local authorities on how to deal with the needs of children who have run away from home; and the introduction of trained police and council workers with specific responsibility to support them.

Hats off to the Children’s Society, who have spent the last two decades campaigning. And now let’s see if the government will decriminalise children abused through prostitution.

And another one bites the dust

January 9, 2008

Work on the government’s much-trumpeted C-Nomis offender management system ground to a halt last summer when it became clear that the original £230m estimate was wildly inaccurate, and now the coup de grace has been delivered:

A £500 million computer project to underpin the criminal justice system and protect the public has been scrapped… after spending more than £150 million, David Hanson, the Justice Minister, pulled the plug. He said steps would be taken to increase data shared between prisons and probation.

Hot air

January 8, 2008

Former Home Office Minister Fiona McTaggart has this to say on prostitution:

The way in which prostitution is tackled now and has been through most of history is by targeting the women selling sex. It doesn’t work. Prostitution exists because of the demand from men. Making paying for sex illegal will begin to tackle the demand.

Quite extraordinary, then, that throughout her stay at the Home Office, it stolidly refused to remove criminal liability from children who become involved in prostitution.

Her CiF piece also fails to mention that one of the main routes into prostitution is through being one of the 100,000 children who run away from home each year – and still there are only 10 emergency beds for young runaways in the whole of the UK.

Talk certainly is cheap.

Hush, go back to sleep

January 8, 2008

In case you’re wondering what ‘Project Stork’ is all about, here’s a comforting bedtime story from the UK Identity and Passport Service:

Project Stork is a research project involving 14 countries looking at each other’s technical standards for delivery of online Government services, with a view to making it easier for citizens and businesses to access such “e-services” cross-border in future.

Project Stork is not about ID cards, it has nothing to do with the National Identity Scheme or providing personal data from the National Identity Register.

The EU has a different version:

An ambitious pilot project to test the compatibility of several different electronic ID systems is to be undertaken in the UK. The pilot, worth over €20 million, is part of the EU’s eID STORK project which aims to establish EU-wide interoperability for eIDs by 2010.

Read more on UK Liberty

Mosaic for children

January 7, 2008

It’s OK – we haven’t gone all Dorling Kindersley.

A few questions. Are you a Corporate Chieftain, a Burdened Optimist or a White Van man? Do you live in a Respectable Row or Rustbelt Resilience? Maybe you have Low Horizons or Sepia Memories? If you don’t know, Experian certainly does. Its MOSAIC tool is a consumer classification system that divides all of us by postcode into one of 61 categories, of which these are just a few examples. See for yourself.(pdf)

It’s not just industry that uses the system. Apparently all of the political parties do in order to target their election campaigning. It’s used by public services to allocate resources.

The man who developed Mosaic has recently added another weapon to Experian’s armoury: software that tells you a person’s ethnicity from their surname – particularly useful when someone refuses to tell you.

And now for the children bit: the government has used Mosaic to code the entire National Pupil Database. I’m ashamed to say that we completely missed this story when it was first published.

It’s come to our attention because we received a copy of a paper published in the British Journal of Criminology which examined the use of Mosaic in predicting which schools are likely to have a large number of potentially criminal pupils (based on their postcode). It suggests that such schools could be made into crime prevention academies. Unfortunately the full paper can only be accessed if you have the academic ATHENS log-in, but you can at least see the abstract here.

The name of one of the authors might seem familiar – that’s because he’s the designer of the Mosaic system.

Somebody please pinch me. I think I’m having a bad dream.

Spending your money

January 5, 2008

The government apparently has designs on families’ disposable income:

Parents could be required to provide their children with high-speed internet access under plans being drawn up by ministers in partnership with some of the country’s leading IT firms.

According to the Minister for Schools:

“We need to get to a point where in the same way when they start school the expectation is you’ve [the parent] got to find a school uniform, provide them with something to write with and probably these days a calculator, and in secondary school some sports gear – well, you add to that some IT.”

Sounds as if they need to sit up and pay more attention at the back:

3 out of 4 parents and guardians find meeting their child’s school costs ‘very’ or ‘quite’ difficult, according to a new survey from national charity Citizens Advice.

Despite the rhetoric, it seems to be hard for government and policy-makers to grasp that poverty means feeling lucky if you have a spare tenner left over at the end of each month.

Of course it’s important for children to have Internet access, so here’s a better idea: The government could curb its enthusiasm for throwing money at castles in the air and use it to provide children with IT equipment.