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In an age of austerity?  Really?

If you live in the UK you can’t of helped but notice that of late the new Tory / Liberal Democrat coalition government have been cutting anything that stands still for long enough.  We are in an age of austerity apparently.  This has prompted all sorts of clever questions made under the Freedom of Information Act by journalists about government spending, and tech journalists are no exception.

Business Link Logo
£105m Website

The BBC’s leading technology correspondent is Rory Cellan-Jones – he’s generally a very smart fellow and obviously has a number of good connections.  Today he made a blog post about the Business Link website costing £105,000,000 over a 3 year period.

Yes, £105 million pounds for a website.

Clearly there is righteous indignation all round, and outright amazement that a website can cost £105m.  This then prompted a former civil servant who now runs his own consultancy, Simon Dixon, to comment on what he felt Rory had missed.


In short, Simon says it can cost £35m a year to run a website because:  it can.

And scarily, he’s right.  While I have no experience in the public sector I have seen the same thing happen in the private sector but usually only in large corporations.

I think the reason for it is a little different to that which Simon suggests (that it is because big consultancys get involved and the money is there).  I think its because we get involved in my pet hate:  I.T. for I.T.’s sake.  This is when we, as IT professionals do things because we believe thats how they should be done, or because we want a new tech on our CV, or its the current “favourite”,  forgetting the core purpose of what our client wants.

We should be about helping our clients (be they public or private sector) improve their output, or achieve their goals in the most cost effective way.  One of the comments on Simon’s blog just about sums it up for me:

Factor in the endless box-ticking requirements generated by the ITIL and PRINCE2 job-creation methodologies…

Clearly I dont think any sane person would argue against having “best practices” and “methodologies” which allow us to get our jobs done in the most effective way.  But do the likes of ITIL and PRINCE2 really do that?    In my experience the problem with them is that they are too generic and allow themselves to be bent by persons various to suit whatever aim they currently have… do they result in better IT projects?  Yes, mainly.  But do they result in our clients producing widgets more efficiently, or getting information out better?  Only as a bi-product.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Hero’s Run

I am taking part in the “Hero’s Run” in aid of The Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance a week on Sunday (May 23rd) at Stoneleigh Park – and I am looking for sponsorship for a good cause which is close to my heart – The Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance.

The Hero’s Run is a 5k run around Stoneleigh Park (a magnificent setting), and I intend to run the whole thing – no walking.  You can find more details about it on the WNAA website. Some folk  will be taking part dressed as super hero’s, which could provide some cheap entertainment.

As one of my friends very kindly pointed out I don’t normally run so much as a bath – so this is something of a special effort for me; and I am hoping you will sponsor me, or at least come down and scrape me up off the floor about half way round and set me on my way again.  I’ve had a word with the pilot of the Air Ambulance and he assures me that when he has finished laughing at me he will take me to hospital if I collapse.

G-RSCU - The new WNAA.
G-RSCU - The new WNAA.

I’m sure I don’t need to point out the Air Ambulance is a vital resource for getting seriously injured people medical treatment fast, saving lifes.  We are privileged in Warks & Northants to have an air ambulance which routinely carries a Doctor and uses one of the fastest helicopters available; they essentially take the hospital to the patient, and quickly.  However they get no government funding, and are entirely dependant on donations.  So, I thought I should do my bit to try and help them, I wouldn’t want to be in position where I need them, and they aren’t there!

Can you help out by sponsoring me?   You can do it online…


How to save £6.8million?

The simple answer is, according to Warwickshire Police, to

changing the way you responds to calls, review police posts, and reduce waste in day-to-day expenditure

Simples!  This all stems from my Council Tax Demand for the financial year 2010 / 11, which arrived recently.  For those of you outside of the UK we pay Council Tax based on property value to our local council and it is comprised of amounts for the local police authority, the district council and the county council (this is slightly different for people living in cities where the district and county council are the same).

Council Tax Demand 2010.
Council Tax Demand 2010.

As you can see from my Council Tax Demand (click to see it larger), this year for my property the tax has risen by roughly 2.2%, which is actually not too bad given the current rate of inflation in the UK, which is 3% or 3.7% depending on which measure you want to use according to The Office Of National Statistics.  Which makes this, in real terms, a decrease – so I should be filled with joy by this.

Alas, of course, I am not.  It would only be a real terms decrease in taxation if I had a pay rise in line with inflation; which very few people will get this year, especially those who are self employed like myself!  But, it is the lowest rate of increase in Council Tax since it was introduced to replace the massively unpopular Poll Tax (I am too young to have ever paid that!), so I shan’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

However, what really got me chuckling / angry / wondering was the section on the bottom of the demand which details the statutory “efficiency information” which the public bodies have to produce.  It seems Warwickshire Police have, since 2008, saved £6,829,000 in efficiency savings – a staggering amount for an authority with a budget of only approx £90m, and a large area to police.  I thought I’d read their leaflet and see how they account for this (the cynic in me thinking its just a number game).

But no, lo and behold, they have saved £6.8m by simply changing the way the answer the phone.  Oh, and of course the “reviewing of police posts.”  Details of which are actually in the same leaflet.  Warwickshire will lose 58 police officers, out of only 1,005 (Warwickshire is the smallest police force in the UK, bar City Of London), a reduction of almost 6%.  Luckily though, we gain 51 “police staff” which brings their number to 780, an increase of 7%.

How can this be an efficiency saving when the definition above it is given as

An efficiency saving occurs when the cost of an activity falls, but the level and quality of service is not reduced.

I don’t think anyone would define having fewer police, but more staff as not affecting the quality or level of service.  So that leaves the phone answering and day to day costs to explain the £6.8m savings.  Thats a lot of unanswered phones and paper clips!