The decision facing Francis Maude


by David Moss

January 2011


They're not lucky round at the Cabinet Office.

No sooner had they published the report on their G-Digital consultation last Friday than the OECD published its report, recommending that "cloud computing creates security problems in the form of loss of confidentiality if authentication is not robust and loss of service if internet connectivity is unavailable or the supplier is in financial difficulties".

G-Digital is the Cabinet Office plan to deliver all public services over the web, in a so-called G-Cloud. Never mind the security problems identified by the OECD, and by real users of cloud computing, the prospective suppliers who were consulted unsurprisingly declared themselves keen to take part in this multi-billion pound post-bureaucratic project.

Then on Monday, ENISA, the EU's information security agency, cast more doubt on the advisability of cloud computing, concluding that "its adoption should be limited to non-sensitive or non-critical applications and in the context of a defined strategy for cloud adoption which should include a clear exit strategy".

Never mind the exit strategy, G-Digital still doesn't have a clear starting strategy.

Martha Lane Fox's Race Online 2012 Manifesto tells us that 9.2 million Britons have never used the web. How are they going to access public services if G-Digital takes off? Exclusion, anyone?

John Suffolk, the government chief information officer, says that by consolidating and centralising and standardising all public service computing ("localism", Whitehall-style), and by using the web, G-Digital public services will become trusted, high quality, efficient and green.

We've heard that before, from Ian Watmore, when he was the government CIO in 2005 championing "transformational government". In fact it's the same sales pitch year in, year out, the costs turn up right enough, but the benefits are never delivered. Watmore's transformational government proved to be another expensive damp squib, and left us with what Whitehall evidently consider to be distrusted, low quality, inefficient and not green public services. Why would it be different this time?

Anyway, Mr Suffolk is leaving the Cabinet Office in March. So who will lead G-Digital? Funnily enough, after his unhappy fixture at the Football Association, more than likely, Ian Watmore. He's back in the Cabinet Office, as chief operating officer of the Efficiency and Reform Group.

Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, has to make up his mind whether to let G-Digital proceed. He has the option, remember, to keep his cheque book securely locked in his G-Plan desk.

While there is nothing to show for transformational government in the UK, and nothing to show for the related ID cards scheme RIP, other EU countries have made progress.

If he really wants to turn the UK into a post-human nation of electronic identities – "eIDs" as they call them in Europe – perhaps Mr Maude could take a leaf out of the local authorities leaders' book, and try a bit of service sharing. Call in the Norwegian civil service? Or the Estonians? See if they'd like to repeat their success here in the UK?

David Moss has spent seven years campaigning against the Home Office's ID card scheme.

2010 Business Consultancy Services Ltd
on behalf of Dematerialised ID Ltd