HMRC – still all at sea!

July 13, 2013

Today, my wife and I who live at the same address, received a total of FOUR envelopes from the HMRC relating to Child Tax Credits, in fact they duplicated each other to a greater of lesser extent but two were from Glasgow and the other two from Preston. After sitting down for a while and tracking back to paper work part related to a demand for overpayment for the year 2011 – 12 and the thicker duplicate wadge to the tax year 2012 -13. Unfortunately, the calculation for 2012 – 13 had hidden within it the amount being demanded for 2011 -12, whilst the 2011 – 12 amount supplied a BGC slip attached to send to their Bradford office. So four lots of postage, paper & machine time when one would do, if the system operated as it should.

With the reams of paper involved over the past few years that have taxed my mind in completing them (hopefully) accurately, I hate to think how a person with a lesser education would cope. We have paid the amount on the more threatening demand with a cheque since although an electronic option is available I’m not sure they could cope without the relevant bits of paper and I’m ensuring a paper trail. We will now await a demand for the remainder in due course.

I am mainly relieved that my son is past the age where Child Tax Credits apply now but we still have to battle on with the Student Loan online system that infuriates us all from the moment we log on.

If any government truly wanted to save money they would ditch these convoluted, time-wasting systems and find a way to collect taxes and pay benefits in a more organised manner. By this I am not supporting the massive waste of time that is Universal Credit, but making a suggestion to review all existing systems from the point of view of the end user and cut out all the unnecessary complexity that is over-engineered into them because computers permit it, and the neo-bureaucrats want it.


The Cloud of Unknowing

June 6, 2013

I’m pleased to say that the International Journal of Technoethics has just published a paper by me entitled “The ‘Cloud’ of Unknowing – What a Government Cloud May and May Not Offer: A Practitioner Perspective”, International Journal of Technoethics 4(1) 1-10 January – June 2013.

The abstract is as follows:

“Cloud computing is increasingly ubiquitous in the consumer and private sectors and with financial austerity there is pressure on governments to follow suit. However, the relationship between government and citizen is different to that of supplier and customer, despite the advocacy of New Public Management, particularly where the holding of sensitive data is concerned. The paper examines the potential issues of ‘cloud’ and how they may transfer to ‘government cloud’ (g-cloud), along with the potential problems pertinent to ‘g-cloud’ itself. There is an examination of the literature relating to security, legal and technical matters concluding with the considerations and principles that need to be observed prior to any major transfer of citizen data to a relatively new but still developing area of information systems.”

Whilst I have been largely silent on this blog I have continued with academic work, possibly more reading than writing, but have a couple of other drafts in process, along with what is hopefully a more profound work that may one day see the light of day.

My identity

November 14, 2012 states that four potential providers of identity service to the UK Department of Work and Pensions have been chosen in ID Providers chosen for Universal Credit. I wonder why they then list seven: Post Office, Cassidian, Digidentity, Experian, Ingeus, Mydex, and Verizon, or are some of them working together? It’s good that Mydex have a foot in the door, along with our own dear Post Office, but why oh why have we got Experian again. I’ve communicated my own experience with Experian in an earlier blog post, and they are about as user friendly as having a red-hot poker shoved where the sun doesn’t shine.

Speaking out of office and ear-shot with some DWP staff recently I was concerned  that they can only see a future where their entire job is automated, which is how they interpret the government vision. The command and control hierarchy makes those HR-ish noises that they are considerate employers, whilst waiting in the wings to make them redundant. They saw no young people in their ranks, they are also encouraged to see career progression where there isn’t any in reality. I imagine the DWP sees them transferring TUPE-less to the ranks of automata that appear to answer the telephone at Experian. They were intelligent hard-working people and I feel sorry for what they have to put up with.

The recent Independent on Sunday report raising issues with the rollout of Universal Credit quoted a government IT adviser as saying that Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary “has been hypnotised by promises of what an online system can deliver. Warnings were given to him more than a year ago. They were ignored.” This follows a history of such ICT hubris from politicians, which was a side conclusion of my doctoral dissertation, but whilst consuming millions of taxpayers money fails to fill promises for the plain simple fact that government and its policies is much more complex than ICT is capable of.


November 9, 2012

After the US Presidential election, which has occurred following some dreadful weather that side of the Atlantic, the hoary topic of doing something techie to make voting and counting easier has arisen again. The good old MIT Technology Review has published a piece by David Talbot entitled “Why You Can’t Vote Online – Fundamental security problems aren’t solved, computing experts warn“, where the comments make equally good reading as the article itself. Closely following this was the news in The Register that given the weather the State of New Jersey’s attempt to make life better by instituting a ‘vote by email’ route had collapsed when inboxes filled, and votes were directed to personal email accounts.

In the UK we are going to the polls shortly to elect Police & Crime Commissioners and although the weather will be better, we hope, than the north-eastern coast of the USA, getting some people to the polling station will be very hard. Even if a workable technical solution is produced we still have the lack of quality broadband throughout the UK to deliver it over. Estonia, one of the places where e-voting appears to work has both broadband and identity cards, so two of the difficulties are surmounted already. In the UK and the USA confirming ones identity can be a regular difficulty as has been already stated on this blog.

The trouble with both the UK and the USA is that we have hoary old ‘democratic’ systems that were developed when populations were smaller and less people had representation. There are a lot of wrinkles to be ironed out in the system, before we even bother with making it ‘easier’. One comment on the MIT article effectively states that the person concerned wouldn’t spend the price of a stamp on voting, wouldn’t go to a polling station, but might consider email – does anyone like that deserve a vote or isn’t it seen to be making enough of a difference?

Big problem

October 31, 2012

In an editorial entitled “Why we can’t solve big problems” in the MIT Technology Review Jason Pontin does more than consider ‘big problems’, his piece leads to broader thinking as to what are ‘big problems’, and what problems science can actually deal with. With a background of the billions of dollars and the hundreds of thousands of people employed in the US space programme as an example of an earlier ‘big problem’, and transfers into the contrasting role of the relatively trivial developments funded by venture capitalism in today’s world. The conclusion is that there isn’t the political will, supported by the wider public,to solve these ‘big problems’ or even to attack some of the smaller ones that make them up. As Pontin accepts many of the problems are resolvable in technological terms but the harder problems are the social and political background ones that will allow us to direct resources at their solution.

Whilst I accept much of what Pontin says I do not believe problem resolution is anywhere near that straightforward. Even small problems that appear resolvable through the technological lens suddenly create other issues when attacked. Curing diseases brings more mouths to feed, which brings famine, sorting out famine increases the population and land and water requirements, and no amount of technology can control the elemental forces of the weather, earthquakes and unknown disasters to come. Yes, politicians and policy are an answer to some ‘big problems’ but we cannot entirely control planetary destiny.