Energy policy for a less affluent age

February 3rd, 2012

Read the full article here. In my role as Energy Policy Adviser to the Institute of Directors, here is my latest contribution with my excellent co-author, Corin Taylor. Unfortunately, far too many people in the energy industry and energy policy circles are stuck in a pre-recessionary timewarp. They just don’t seem to have caught up with the fact that our current raft of energy policies are running far ahead of ordinary people’s budgets and the balance sheet strength of our utilities. Energy policy is not just a question of political will and it really shouldn’t be immune from cost-benefit analysis and some open criticism of the underlying energy assumptions. Sometimes I wonder, does our energy policy have no clothes?

Read the full article here – Energy policy for a less affluent age.

Some guiding principles for a successful open data economy

November 1st, 2011

For some months now, I’ve been following “open data” on my google alerts and there is a lot going on, even in nations like Kenya. Added to the experience and frustration I’ve gained working on Britain’s second largest public dataset – crime – and working with my excellent Chief Data Architect, I’ve come to realise that for any government, organisation or developer starting out on this journey, there ought to be in place the following principles from the outset – which I’m sorry to say, has not been our experience.

Guiding principles for open data;

  1. The data released by the government or public sector organisation must be 100% accurate and all fields completed. If it is not, you will raise the barriers to entry for developers who will have to spend their own precious time and money cleaning it up which they will then understandably be reluctant to share with anyone else.
  2. No new data fields may be added until point 1. is fully complete. If you try to run before you can walk, you and your data will fall over and public confidence in the initiative will quickly ebb.
  3. The provider of the data must not have a conflict of interest in providing it – i.e. they should not be releasing public data but witholding key information that they hope to make financial gain from nor should they be entitled to run a website that uses the data to advertise their business, nor should they have first sight and use of the data before the development community. Release the data yes –  release a competing platform simultaneously with unfair advantages – no.
  4. There must be from the start an open two-way conversation between data providers and developers. The easiest way to do this is to set up a forum with an ethos of recrimination free information discovery. The much less effective way is to set up a panel of experts who meet every couple of months and have little first hand knowledge of the data.
  5. Visibly open metrics must be kept on the number of active developers/applications/downloads – what is growing, declining, why?
  6. Government must take full responsibility for the accuracy of the data it releases. If some of it is found to be wrong, say so and say when it will be fixed. Do not change files and not tell any developers or the general public. They will notice.
  7. Government, public sector organisations and developers must be quick to be honest and open about any mistakes in data or applications – there will be some, this is part of the learning process. The point is that mistakes get found because it is open but were hidden away when it was closed.
  8. Establish clear data governance rules from the outset. Central hub collectors of large datasets should not permit spoke feed-in organisations to freely change codes, numbers, files etc. – this has a knock-on effect to developers down the line whose system is then broken and has to be redesigned, again raising the cost of open data development. Data integrity needs to be relied upon. Databases rely on defined rules that are always do this and never do that.

We need Regional and Regeneration policy that creates Outliers

December 30th, 2010

I’ve just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success – see you tube video below and Amazon video here which is a bit better.

And it’s great. In recent years, American academics seem to have discovered the knack of turning the vast quantities of usually dull academic papers they churn out into personal stories that the rest of us will enjoy reading. This book is no exception.  Gladwell targets the main myth of success – that people succeed alone – and totally dismembers it. No one ever succeeds alone. Amongst the many reasons why people succeed, lots of chance, family relatives and involuntary good timing tends to come a lot into it. And then of course the flipside to this work is to look at some causes for why people fail; cultural legacy and power distance to name but two. Once you accept all of that, here’s a passage that sums up what you should then do about it;

To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success

All that being so, writing in the Yorkshire Post yesterday, I lamented the failure of regional policy to do what it says on the tin and how it has succumbed to the siren calls for supporting fashionable industries and moving work to the workers rather than the much cheaper and more effective workers to the work. Regional policy could be about enabling opportunities for Outliers rather than choosing White Elephants – exhibit A of which has to be this semiconductor factory in Scotland.

Date of Comprehensive Spending Review – 20th October 2010

October 3rd, 2010

Put it in your diaries now !

Last week I was at a policy wonks’ dinner and a very senior economist made the salient point that the 20th October 2010, will be the most significant date in the UK’s economic calendar for many years to come. He argued that it will set the tone for all debate on public spending and the size of the state for well beyond the life of the coalition and it’s hard to disagree.

Few then will envy the Chancellor, George Osborne his job when he presents the CSR to Parliament.

A range of opinion polls suggests it’s going to be very difficult to sell the CSR to the public who are used to an ever-expanding state. And not least because voters seem unaware for all the ongoing media coverage of “cuts”, as John Redwood MP has pointed out many, many times to an unlistening world, expenditure is still rising and forecast to keep doing so, from £600 bn in FY 2009/1 to £693 bn in FY 2014/15.

Quangos, outsourcing and the future of public services

September 26th, 2010

Once again quangos were in the news because of a leaked list of 177 which are facing the axe. The surprise is that no one seems to have noticed that it’s missing the Strategic Health Authorities (28) and the Primary Care Trusts (303). And yes they are quangos,  as they were listed in the 2005/06 Public Bodies Report , the last serious attempt by the Cabinet Office to keep track of the quangocracy. So I’ll be making this point and others in the Yorkshire Post tomorrow. When you understand the scale of the SHA and PCT budgets being taken over by GPs, it quickly becomes obvious that this  is by far the most significant quango cull of all.

Anyway, interviewed by Jane Hill on BBC News TV earlier this this week, I argued that there’s plenty of scope for the outsourcing of public services provided by these public bodies.  So news that Suffolk County Council plans to outsource most of its services points to what could start to happen at the Central government level.

The staggering cost of government websites . . .

June 25th, 2010

News yesterday from the Cabinet Office confirmed what many of us had suspected for some time – parts of the IT Industry have been ripping off the government and by extension the taxpayer for some time – particularly on websites.

It is a pretty staggering set of statistics that;

across government £94 million has been spent on the construction and set up and running costs of just 46 websites and £32 million on staff costs for those sites in 2009-10. The most expensive websites are:

Read the original report here. As I wrote some 18 months ago, I suspected that the cost of public  body/quango websites would be hard to justify and a future government should aim (amongst other measures) to achieve

Full disclosure and ranking for each quango of website expenditure and the consequent number of impressions and visitors and downloads (suspect quite a few scandals here – government websites tend to be very expensive and ineffective, there may be some successes too, let’s find out!)

I just didn’t know how bad it was.  To be fair, this process started long before the arrival of the new government the previous government had already shut down a lot of websites. So the Cabinet Office can’t actually take all of the credit, just some of it. But the openness vis a vis the release of raw data from the coalition is a very big departure from the past and to be welcomed.

Now we need to know what are the google search terms all these bodies are bidding on and what is their budget for it?

This would constitute the proof that government service providers are crowding private sector providers on an hourly basis. I’ve no doubt that they will have succeeded in bidding up the cost of google advertising for the private sector, so it’s only fair to know which ones for them not to compete with.