Archive for the ‘Governmental stupidity’ Category

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Lies, damn lies, and terrorism

In Governmental stupidity,Justice,Politics,Real-World Stats,Statistics on Friday 26th February, 2010 by Guy Tagged: , , , ,

The Research Development and Statistics section of the Home Office regularly publishes extremely interesting reports, even though its website is a dog (last time I tried the mailing list signup didn’t work), and more substantively its independence is hard to gauge (I don’t know if, and if so why, they carry out distinct work from the Office for National Statistics, which is supposedly on a more independent footing than it was before).

I found my own way to be told of updates to its “What’s New” page. The latest report is the lithely titled “Operation of police powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 and subsequent legislation: Arrests, outcomes and stops & searches. Quarterly update to September 2009. Great Britain”, with an accompanying press release which I can’t read, although that is almost certainly my fault.

The most eye-catching figure is that a smidgen (444, to be exact) over 200,000 “stops and searches were made in Great Britain under [Section] 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in the year ending 30 September 2009” (page 15 of the report and PDF). That is a lot of terrorists stopped! Although a few of them might have been, say, innocent photographers just trying to, erm, take photographs. Interestingly, the rate at which these stopsandsearches took place decreased markedly in just one year, as can be seen clearly in Figure 2 of the report, reproduced here. The South Wales force, for example, managed to cut their number of stopsandsearches from 662 to, erm, 0, and the analogous figures from Hampshire went from 633 to, well, 0! I guess all those terrorists ran away, or maybe the police started to realise they were taking the piss. Now that Section 44 has been declared illegal by the European Court of Human Rights, one would hope they will stop altogether elsewhere, but the Home Office has so far refused to countenance this.

Just to show how ridiculous the number of stopsandsearches is (the vast, vast majority of which — always over 90% — are carried out by the Metropolitan Police), consider how many arrests and convictions follow from these stopsandsearches. According to the report, “For the year ending 30 September 2009 there were 965 arrests resulted from s44 stops
and searches in Great Britain, an arrest rate of 0.5%“. The number of terrorism-related charges, let alone convictions, is not given. I’m going to bet it’s quite small.

Consider the only other figure in the report (how convenient!), Figure 1, also reproduced here. It shows the proportion of charges following a terrorism-related arrest that are actually, you know, terrorism-related. It goes from almost 80% in the second quarter of 2008 to under 20% by the third quarter of 2009.

And don’t forget that’s just the proportion of those charged! Table 1.2, “Outcome of terrorism arrests”, shows that for the two years leading to the 30th of September 2009, there were 379 terrorism arrests [although I’m not sure how this squares with the figure for arrests following Section 44 stopsandsearches given above. I think maybe they are only counting Section 41 arrests and suchlike, looking at Table 1.1], of which 66 (about 17%) led to terrorism-related charges (including those determined to be terrorism-related as “assessed by the ACTCC”, whatever the hell that is), 64 (ditto%) led to non-terrorism related charges, 193 (over 50%) were released without charge, and finally 56 (about 15%) were, ahem, served with “alternative action”, which “includes cautions for non-terrorism offences, transfers to immigration authorities, transfers to the PSNI, summonses and those dealt with under mental health legislation”.

In case you didn’t see the bold bit above, let me repeat it here: over 50% of terrorism-related arrests led nowhere. And this doesn’t include the Section 43 or 44 arrests.

Truly pathetic.

Extra stuff:

The report (viewable here)

Update: Well, lookee here! The Guardian has stumbled on this data too and put it into a spreadsheet. Go get ’em, boy (or girl, if that’s your thing).

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climatechallenge.gov.uk — does it exist? (And can we prove it one way or the other?)

In Governmental stupidity,Politics,Taxpayers' Money Bonfire on Saturday 20th February, 2010 by Guy Tagged: ,

Climate Change is (supposed to be) important, particularly to parasites on society the Government and other do-gooders.

So what happened to climatechallenge.gov.uk? According to archive.org, which tracks the history of webpages (and therefore is more than entitled to its cool name of “the WayBack Machine”), climatechallenge.gov.uk was set up around the end of 2005, and regularly updated until about October 2007 or so. Then around March 2008 the domain was re-directed to http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Environmentandgreenerliving/Thewiderenvironment/Climatechange/index.htm (which still exists), but the WayBack Machine was blocked from archiving that.

Now all you get is redirected to http://79.170.40.8/inactive.cgi?site=climatechallenge.gov.uk;key=8686852b454348e4ef1698aeef2aef41, and provided with a blank page for the privilege. What’s going on?

Who is in charge of 79.170.40.8? Not the Government. It seems to be owned by an ISP called Heart Internet. Why? Was this intended?

Another Freedom of Information request needed? *sigh*…

Update: Now one just gets error “502 Bad Gateway”. FOI request is here.

Update: I meant climatechallenge.gov.uk, not climatechange.gov.uk, and have edited this post accordingly. The FOI request has been answered with this correction and some information. The gist is that the budget for the domain ran out, and that’s that. Why it redirects to the particular IP above is still a mystery…

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Just another outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money, possibly on cronies, ho hum

In FOI,Governmental stupidity,Politics,Taxpayers' Money Bonfire on Saturday 20th February, 2010 by Guy Tagged: , , ,

Update (2010-11-10): the Government-funded game company Red Redemption Ltd release new game “Fate of the World“. I’ll leave the expert wordsmiths and clear thinkers of Spiked to discuss this sad day.

And now back to the original post…:

*************************************************

The Taxpayers’ Alliance — who in a fair world would have the power of veto over every Government decision — chronicle how much of the £8.6million the Government spent on something called the Climate s Change Fund, a propaganda effort to change opinion on climate change, was a waste of money even by the Government’s own criteria, leaving aside the outrageous use of public money for propaganda.

In their accompanying note on what remnants of this effort can still be found online — because obviously there’s no point in maximising what little value there already was in the project by ensuring that the resulting project outcomes are available as long as possible — I was struck by a game called Operation Climate Control (which is still online) that was created by an organisation called the “Yigal Allon Educational Trust”, who were given £49,480 to develop it. Who is Yigal Allon? Only a top Israeli politician who was Prime Minister for about a month on an interim basis in 1969 following the death of his predecessor, Levi Eshkol.

But what does Yigal Allon, who died in 1980, have to do with climate change? A good question. The short answer, as far as I can tell, is “nothing”. So why is his “educational trust” involved with the CCF?

First things first: what is the “Yigal Allon Educational Trust”? According to Stone Ashdown, which somehow looks after the YAET,

Yigal Allon was registered by trust deed in December 1985 with a distinguished list of founding members including former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Ian Mikardo, Lord Glenamara, Baroness Birk and Gavin Laird. The Trust has worked closely with and supported Labour Friends of Israel, the Holocaust Trust and promoted a peace conference between Palestinians and Israelis at Ditchley Park in 2003.

Good stuff I’m sure, but worryingly distant from anything to do with the enviroment, and worryingly close to the Labour party.

Being a charity, the YAET is regulated by the Charity Commission. Its information on the charity includes the following highlights:

  • For the financial year ending 31 December 2006, the charity’s income came to £49,480… which is also the amount given it by the CCF! So for that year the “charity” received 100% of its income from the Government. This is confirmed in its accounts for the year (see page 7 of the PDF, which is page 5 of the report).
  • Its income for 2007 was, in contrast, a grand total of £700. No accounts were submitted because apparently a charity requires an annual income of £10,000 before being required to submit accounts.
  • Its income for 2008 was… well, we don’t know, because the accounts for that year are now 112 days overdue.
  • Its income for 2009 was… we don’t know either. It is worth noting that Stone Ashdown, who look after the YAET, say on their front page that

Stone Ashdown Trust has become one of the UK’s first charitable foundations to “spend out” its capital. The Trust has allocated all future funding and will cease operations in 2009. No further grants will be made and no applications will be considered.

I don’t know whether this means YAET is also ceasing operations, such as they are. What seems to be certain is that it hasn’t really done much recently, apart from developing this £50k game.

(a) to or towards or for the benefit or in furtherance of such charitable purposes[,] charitable institutioans [sic] or charitable foundations in the United Kingdom or elsewhere at such time or times and in such manner and in such proportions as the trustees may from time to time in their absolute discretion determine.
(b) to educate trade unionists in the united kingdom in the history[,] philosophy and development of trade unions in Israel with special reference to the development of the kibbutz and moshav movement and the histadrut.
Part (b) seems almost comically different from making a climate change game, and part (a) is so vague I’m not surprised that they receive so little in donations — after all, they can spend the money at their “absolute discretion”!
  • Who are the trustees? Right now, they are
  • Dr Richard Stone
  • Lady Gould
  • Lord Clarke

And who are these fine, upstanding betitled people? Some titbits:

Dr Richard Stone was on the panel of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (1997-99) as adviser to Sir William Macpherson. He was also on the panel of the 2003-04 David Bennett Inquiry into the death of a black patient during restraint in the medium secure psychiatry unit in Norwich.

He is President of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality and vice-chair of the Runnymede Trust.

Founder and co-chair of Alif-Aleph UK (British Muslims and British Jews), Dr Stone is also on the Council and Board of Liberty. He is a member of the Home Office’s Working Groups on Tackling Extremism Together, and chairs the recently re-convened Commission on British Muslims & Islamophobia, originally set up by the Runnymede Trust in 1995.

Not particularly informative, methinks, but there it is.

One can’t help but wonder if the Trust would have received the money if the trustees were Conservative peers. I guess we’ll never know.

One last thing: the Stone Ashdown site for the YAET mentions the Operation: Climate Control project, and gives the email address ccf@yigalallon.org as a contact address [cf. the Commission website for the contact details for the YAET, which has no website or email information on it]. So what website is there at yigalallon.org? None. According to the site records, the site just points back to red-redemption.com. And what is at that site? Red Redemption Ltd, “the indie games developers of the Climate Challenge series of games”, and the developers of Operation: Climate Control, as well as a new game called Climate Change 2010. Fair play to them, but why are they in control of the yigalallon.org domain? Pretty mysterious. I’m glad to see that they’re now making games for the market rather than depending on taxpayers’ money (as in the case of another of their games, the very similarly named Climate Change, which was “sponsored” by the BBC, and can still be played here), unless I missed something. Their team page is pretty bombastic (for example, describing the House of Commons as “historic” for no good reason), but I guess that’s their right.

I feel a Freedom of Information request is needed to find out why the YAET were chosen to make this game. [Unfortunately I’m not sure we’ll ever find out the connection between YAET and Red Redemption Ltd.] Stay tuned…

Update: Here’s a puff piece about Climate Change 2010 from the Guardian. The comments are pretty wry.

Another update: Freedom of Information request on its way. There’s also some information about the game in the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s evaluation of the Climate Change Fund, which the Taxpayers’ Alliance got hold of and put on their site. The case study starts on page 102 of the PDF, which is page 101 of the report. The Taxpayers’ Alliance report based on the evaluation notes (on page 8 of both the PDF and the report) that

The report says that 1,048 active sessions (games with at least one player) created between July 2007 and April 2008. That implies that the project cost around £47 in grant funding per game played, to which the opportunity cost of class time used to play the game can be added.

My emphasis, as though that were needed. That’s one heck of a game.

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Where I become subject to a Tree Preservation Order

In Governmental stupidity,Plants,Politics,Trees on Sunday 30th August, 2009 by Guy

Returning from a hard day at work surfing the net and moving some Greek letters around on various bits of paper according to a highly esoteric scheme called “mathematics”, I was torn between excitement and forboding to find in my mailbox a healthily-filled A4-sized envelope which was sent “Recorded Signed For“, meaning that the sender paid for the knowledge that their message was delivered. Flicking the package around to look for the sender’s address — because one really can’t open mysterious post before one has comprehensively examined the packaging for clues as to its content — I learnt that the responsible party was the “Document Management Centre” at Warwick District Council.

Gulp.

Living in a benign but nonetheless strict authoritarian country such as the UK, one lives in constant fear that said authorities will find that one has broken some rule, not followed some bureaucratic procedure according to the bureaucracy’s whims, with the effect that one’s life becomes a little more uncomfortable as the full force of the Rule Of Law intrudes into it and demands satisfaction. So being sent a letter from a cryptically-named office of the local council could only be a bad thing. They don’t sound like the sort of place that gives out medals or tea with biscuits.

Excitement now properly squashed by foreboding, I peeled the envelope flap away, and slowly pulled out the sheaf within. It was a very official letter.

It was addressed to the “Owner/Occupier”. Phew! So it wasn’t something they could blame on me — or at least, not yet.

It was a… (and here I use Title Case where the council, in its transfinite wisdom, uses only capitals, probably with the successful intent to project authority)

Tree Preservation Order Notification
Town and Country Planning Act 1990
Town and Country Planning (Trees) Regulations 1999

It was Tree Preservation Order 406, in fact, the other 405 having passed my blissfully by.

The next few paragraphs were extremely formal councilese concerning the council, the law, and trees. I was now utterly confused as to what this had to do with me. I had nothing against trees! I had not had an intimate encounter with a tree for many moons! Why bother me with Tree Orders of any kind, let alone Preservation ones?! Could it have been sent by mistake? This was a very far from implausible outcome.

Halfway down the page came the statement, which was the only non pro forma part of the letter judging by its distinct font:

The wellingtonia is located in a prominent road side location making a significant contribution to the character and amenity of the surrounding area

Well, that was very interesting information, but I still had no idea what it had to do with me. A careful re-reading of the letter revealed in the second paragraphs that it was because

The council is required by law to serve notice on landowners and occupiers of land on which the tree(s) is/are situated [[nice way to adjust the template to specific circumstances, my dear civil servants!]] and also owners and occupiers of adjoining land.

Now I understood that I live close to this tree… But I couldn’t think of what tree nearby was so important and so under threat that all this effort and expense was needed to save it from me and for me. Perhaps there was a picture of the tree that would simultaneously identify it to me and exemplify its unique vulnerable specialness?

So I turned to the other contents of the envelope. They were:

  • A [back to Normal Case for this:] “Copy of Regulation 4 of the Town and Country Planning (Trees) Regulations 1990”, which was sent because it relates to “objections and representations” concerning new Tree Protection Orders. Unfortunately, the Copy didn’t state what a reasonable objection could be and what response could be expected beyond “Thanks, we’re going to recycle this now”.
  • An FAQ sheet full of questions that I imagine are not particularly frequently asked, such as “How can I find out if a tree has a TPO?”.
  • The actual TREE PRESERVATION ORDER! How exciting.

Except that the first few pages of the Order contained only lots of legalese and nothing about what the order was referring to, except Clause 4 which made sure nothing naughty would happen by proudly stating,

Without prejudice to subsections (6) and (7) of Section 198 (power to make tree
preservation orders) or Sub-Section (3) of Section 200 (tree preservation orders:
Forestry Commissioners), and subject to Article 5, no person shall:

(a) cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or wilfully destroy; or

(b) cause or permit the cutting down, topping, lopping, uprooting, wilful damageor wilful
destruction of,

any tree specified in Schedule 1 to this Order or comprised in a group of trees or in a
woodland so specified, except with the consent of the Authority and where such consent
is given subject to conditions in accordance with those conditions.

I wouldn’t know how to lop even if I wanted to. Anyway, off to Schedule 1 to see which trees are being protected from such savagery as being topped and lopped:

[a few pages later, after far more detail about any possible circumstances involving trees and their protection than you’d even want to be involved with has been gone through….]

Schedule 1

Specification of Trees

Trees specified individually
(encircled in black on the map)
Reference on Map : Description : Situation
T1 : Wellingtonia : T1 is situated in the north east part of blah blah blah

Then followed other potential categories (“Trees specified by reference to an area”; “Groups of trees”; “Woodlands”) that today would not be necessary in order to save local treekind.

OK, so there must be a map! Turn over the page…

Schedule 2

Part I

Provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 applied with adaptations or modifications

Provision of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 : Adaptation of Modification

Section 69 (registers) : (a) In subsection (1) –
: (i) omit –
: “, [sic!!!] in such manner as may be described by a development order,”,
: “such” in the second place where it appears, and
: “as may be so prescribed”; and

and… so on for 3.5 pages more, going through modifications to Section 70 (determination of applications: general considerations), Section 75 (effect of planning permission) and so on to Section 79 (determination of appeals). All utter gobbledegook. Not to worry though! Part II of Schedule 2 applies all the omissions, adaptations, cut-and-pastes, censorings, doodlings and other nefarious symbol manipulations that Part I barked at us to get on with. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t make much sense in and of itself, let alone why it’s even there. I’m guessing it’s to do with some special provisions that they’re entitled to claim, but who knows?

At last we get to a shockingly detailed outline map of the surrounding area. It could have been drawn up by God’s architect. There is a very exact outline of every property with the number or name of each property superimposed, including of course mine. And there, right in the middle of the frame, is a small thick-lined circle labelled “T1”. [The title of the map is “Tree Preservation Order No 390”, but who’s counting? After all the pedantry of the law-quoting, I was relieved to see the human touch return].

But still no picture of the tree. And there wasn’t going to be one… The map was all the description we going to be given.

Who asked the tree to be protected? Why now? Why did all this bumf have to be sent for one tree and not just a letter? Why couldn’t it be sent as regular post instead of the pricier recorded post? How many other bored and confused residents had this treatise sent to them, at their own expense of course?

And above all: didn’t it strike anyone involved in this process as a touch ironic than in order to save this one tree — a tree that I still couldn’t identify from memory, despite sleeping every night only 60 metres away (according to the map, which was drawn at scale 1:1250) — several other trees had to be sacrificed first to be made into the bumf? I will definitely relish the stupidity and wastefulness (and soul-destroying technocraticism) that allowed this to happen as I finally put the Tree Preservation Order into the bin.

Addendum: There’s been some recent changes to the regulations, viz. The Town and Country Planning (Trees) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2008, which there was no mention of in my hefty epistle. Perhaps I should inform the council of this?

Addendumdum: It seems the council is well aware, because there’s a link to these latest regulations on the council dedicated TPO page, http://www.warwickdc.gov.uk/TPO. Of particular delight there is their linked article on the (supposed) benefits of trees, which has about 12 academic articles supporting its many claims. If only all public policy was so well-researched! But trees have to take priority over crime and the education of children, of course.

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Responding to the Government’s “consultation” on “earned citizenship”; simultaneously, banging head against rock

In Governmental stupidity,Politics on Saturday 22nd August, 2009 by Guy

After the recent passing of the Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Bill — already the eighth or so immigration law passed since 1997, and during its passage a lovely example of Bismarck’s attributed quotation concerning laws and sausages — the Government is now, in its usual kind concern for the well-being of everyone, canvassing opinions on what to do next. You see, even eight or so immigration laws isn’t enough, because they promised earlier on to have a Super-Duper Immigration Simplification Bill! And the BICB certainly didn’t simplify much, including as it does provisions such as:

(8) In paragraph (d) of that sub-paragraph—

(a) for “1(2)(d)” substitute “1(2)(f)”, and

(b) for “period there mentioned” substitute “qualifying period”.

At least the citizenship part of the Act version of the Bill (Part 2, if you’re counting) is so complicated that it prompted the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association to say of it,

This Part is also testimony to how, without consolidation, clauses are so unintelligible on their face that any scrutiny requires an advanced degree in immigration and nationality law.

So good going all round there on the simplification front. And so now more time has to be spent on writing and passing another law. Hence the need for “consultation”. Maybe I’m getting cynical at my young age, but I’m pretty sure the Government would skip this consultation step if there wasn’t a law somewhere that they had to have it. I’ll explain why I think this in a moment / a few paragraphs (please delete as appropriate, but don’t damage your computer screen).

The consultation documents are available at the Home Office website. It’s as full of guff as you might expect. One prime idea they’re “consulting” on is (from the Executive Summary):

28. A further means to promote integration might be for local authorities to run orientation days for migrants, to provide information about local services and resources to help them integrate more quickly. This would also deliver benefits for the local authority by providing data about newcomers to the area. Orientation days could be either voluntary or compulsory, and could be linked to a points test for citizenship. We would expect local authorities to recover their costs by charging for attending orientation events.

We would welcome views on whether orientation days should be introduced and how they should be organised – including whether they should be compulsory and whether they should attract points.

My view is that it’s an idiotic idea and a waste of everyone’s time, and that a compulsory orientation day that must be paid for by the immigrant is ripe for abuse, as well as being immoral. But why should my view matter? What are the criteria by which submissions are judged worthy or otherwise? Except to the extent they agree with the Government’s position already, of course.

But you are all fired up either way and want to tell them exactly what you think about their proposals, and being tech-savvy, you opt to “Respond to the consultation online”, only to be confronted with this. “This” is an online questionnaire run by… surveymonkey.com! They are the refuge of every social sciences graduate student who needs some data, and fast. They are free up to 100 responses, beyond which they can cost up to $200 a year. This is the kind of efficient government I like to see, except… surveymonkey is based in the US. No, I’m not protectionist at all, but I am worried about data privacy. Data protection are utterly different in America than in the UK (or indeed the EU in general), and yet here our political opinions are being sent across the Atlantic without so much as warning as to the consequences.

And now for the justification of my earlier cynicism regarding why this “consultation” is only so much a waste of everyone’s time and that the Government will only draw conclusions that it would have anyway. Consider the very first question of the survey — I mean, “consultation” — and the possible responses:

1. Do you agree that we should operate a flexible system that allows us to control the number of migrants progressing to probationary citizenship?
* Yes
* No
* Don’t know
If no, why not?

First, the question is put in terms of an agreement with the Government’s position, rather than just asking straight about the consultee’s opinion. Secondly, the biased language: who would be against a “flexible system”? Only crazy ideologues.

But lastly and most crazily: They only ask “why” you answered a particular way if you answered that you don’t agree with them. Just, wow.

Suffice to say I didn’t send my pointless response to HMG and the CIA. Instead I just pointlessly wrote about it here. But ceteris parabus, Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!

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Update on realhelpnow.gov.uk

In Correspondence,FOI,Governmental stupidity,Politics on Friday 17th July, 2009 by Guy Tagged: , , ,

The Freedom of Information request I sent concerning http://www.realhelpnow.gov.uk — the stupendously pointless Government website I first noticed back in February — was responded to back in April. I was quite bamboozled by it, but seeing and chatting to the inesteemable Heather Brooke — the FoI-exploiting journalist who did much to bring about the delightful MPs’ expenses scandal — at OpenTech has encouraged me to look at it again full on.

In response to my request, the Cabinet Office, the unfunny jokers behind the site [and I’m not sure what else the point of the Cabinet Office is; a naive person might conclude, going purely by their name, that they’re supposed to support the Cabinet, but I can’t see how realhelpnow fits into that], told me the following:

1. Emails discussing the reasons for setting the site up and what content to include;
minutes of meetings discussing the same issues

The Cabinet Office does hold information within the scope of this part of your
request. This information is however exempt under Section 35 (Formulation of
Government Policy) of the Act. Consideration has been given to whether it would
be in the public interest to release the information we hold relating to this part of
your request. We have decided that the public interest in maintaining the
exclusion outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

Now when I first saw this, I was utterly confused. They can tell me this information exists, and it does… but they’re not going to give it to me. None of it. First off, I can’t see how deciding this site should exist and what to put there when it does is “formulating Government policy”. Secondly, I also can’t see how what is in the “public interest” can be decided by them. It is the public that funded this stupid site! Aren’t members of the civil service also members of the public? Were they blinded and corrupted by the process of discussing this site to the extent that they now wish more than anything else to protect us from it? Lastly, even if they could decide on our behalf whether it’d be good for us to know just what they said to each other behind the scenes… how did they do it?! They just say they thought about it a bit and then, nah, they really don’t think it’s in our interests. Is that it? An internal review is on its way just for that, because apparently that’s what the next step is.

2. Stakeholders’ comments regarding the setting up of the site and/or its content

No such information is held by the Cabinet Office.

So no-one outside the Government was consulted. Great idea! It’s not like anyone else would have ideas for how you can provide “real help now”.

3. The budget relating to the setting up and maintenance of the site, and how this
was agreed upon

The Cabinet Office holds some information within the scope of this part of your
request. However under Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act we are not
required to provide information in response to a request if that information is
freely available to the applicant. The information was requested in a
Parliamentary Question to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster from Grant Shapps MP on 26 February 2009 and is available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/pahansard.htm under question number
259523.

The Cabinet Office also holds information within the scope of this part of your
request which is exempt under Section 35 (Formulation of Government Policy) of
the Act. Consideration has been given to whether it would be in the public interest
to release the information we hold relating to this part of your request. We have
decided that the public interest in maintaining the exclusion outweighs the public
interest in disclosing the information.

So an MP decided to ask about the site’s budget in Parliament, got a response — which apparently was not detrimental enough to the Government, the Queen, the country, and God to publish it — and the rest, well, is harmful to all that is good and great around here. Argh.

The MP, Grant Shapps, for what it’s worth, asked more than just one question about this site. I wonder why. Here are better links to his all of his questions, and the slightly evasive answers:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm090420/text/90420w0083.htm#qn_729

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm090316/text/90316w0030.htm#qn_306

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm090320/text/90320w0004.htm#qn_37

The first question:

Grant Shapps: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what budget has been assigned to his Department’s Real Help Now website for each of the next three years; and whether other Government Departments have provided funding. [259523]

Mr. Byrne: The Real Help Now website brings together information about the range of support available during the economic downturn and makes it easier for people and businesses to access that support.

The development budget for the site in this financial year (2008-09) was less than £10,000 and falls within the existing Cabinet Office communications budget. Ongoing maintenance costs for the site will form part within the Cabinet Office communications budget which is yet to be agreed for the next three years. No other Departments have provided funding.

Less than £10,000. Does that mean they got a bargain for £9,999.99 at half the price?

The second question:

Grant Shapps: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what private sector support has been provided to his Department’s Real Help Now website. [259457]

Mr. Byrne: The Real Help Now website brings together information about the range of support available during the economic downturn and makes it easier for people and businesses to access that support.

No private-sector support has been provided to the website. A private-sector contractor was engaged under standard Cabinet Office procurement arrangements to assist in the technical development of the website.

Thanks for repeating the information in the first paragraph about the site, Mr. Byrne. That’s really useful.

The second paragraph confirms that they decided not to ask anyone outside Whitehall whether they actually want this site to exist and, if so, what they’d like to see there. The “private-sector contractor”, I found out by exercising some hard-core googleskillz, is some funky cool company called Puffbox, who admit their involvement for all to see here. The information they give about the project is revealing: It was set up by creating an account at delicious.com, the online bookmarking service owned by Yahoo!, and pulling sites added there onto the site, with positioning depending on tags. Videos are are pulled from youtube. And, er, that’s it. This took two weeks and £10,000? No wonder Government IT programmes are such a disaster zone. As the boxpuffer-in-chief admits:

We aren’t making any great claims for this site: it is what it is, a pretty front end, courtesy of regular collaborator Jonathan Harris, pointing to other people’s material, plus a (first person) message from the Prime Minister. But if it can establish itself, there’s naturally plenty of scope to extend and expand into something more communicative and interactive.

From what I can see, that doesn’t seem to have happened. Since the last time I checked three months ago there are now testimonials from Real People about how the Government has helped them with soft loans; PDF scans of leaflets for women, over 60s and, erm, communities (what’s the opposite of one of those, and am I one?); and oodles of links to DirectGov and BusinessLink, two of the larger Government portals. And that’s it. Hmm. Depressing.

The third question from the MP was

Grant Shapps: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how many members of staff (a) employed by the Cabinet Office and (b) seconded from other departments have responsibility for the Real Help Now website. [259747]

Mr. Byrne: The Real Help Now website brings together information about the range of support available during the economic downturn and makes it easier for people and businesses to access that support.

The development work on the website took less than two weeks and was overseen by the existing Cabinet Office website team, supported by one member of staff on part-time secondment from another government department. One member of the Cabinet Office web team has ongoing responsibility for updates to the website as part of their existing duties.

So more of the same. Literally so in the case of the first paragraph.

The last part of the response from the Cabinet Office to me was the most revealing of all:

4. The content and conclusions of any discussions concerning whether the site is a
cost-effective use of civil servants’ time and/or taxpayers’ money, and whether or
not it breaches rules concerning political neutrality

No such information is held by the Cabinet Office.

You couldn’t make it up.

A request for an internal review is on its way right now…

Articles

The case that led to the historic Gurkha vote yesterday in Parliament, along with other neglected details of the affair

In Governmental stupidity,Gurkhas,Justice,Media,Politics on Thursday 30th April, 2009 by Guy

I am extremely pleased that Parliament has found some of its long-missing dignity and voted — with still too small a margin — in favour of the motion to get rid of the idiotic rules that prevent Gurkhas who were discharged before the arbitrary date of the first of July 1997 from applying to settle here, and more generally to re-acclaim the obvious principle that those who fight for this country should be allowed to live in this country if they so wish. (A video and transcript of the debate can be found at theyworkforyou.com [watch out for the poignant comment left on the site by an ex-Gurkha]; the roll call of votes is available at publicwhip.org.uk. I note that my MP, James Plaskitt of the Warwick and Leamington Constituency, voted with the Government. Does he not wonder why every single member of the opposition parties, and many Labour MPs, voted differently?).

The news coverage of the event was welcome but flawed in two important ways. Firstly, it did not clearly explain the context of the vote and why it was happening; secondly, the reporters quickly became engrossed in what the defeat of the Government means for Gordon Brown’s political career and if the vote is “embarrassing” for him. This is a real shame, as otherwise the layperson who only just tuned in to the story (like me) would not understand what exactly was being achieved, or indeed just how disgraceful the Government’s actions were.

I am still reading about the background to the case using whatever primary materials are available online. I know now, for example, that the reason for the debate was that the Government had promulgated new rules for dealing with Gurkhas’ settlement claims that were somehow abysmal. But why had the Government gone to the trouble in the first place? I’m not sure of the reason for the timing, but the trigger seems to be a High Court ruling [given, if you want to be precise, in the Administrative Court of the England and Wales High Court] in September 2008. It took me a long time to find the actual judgment, because news articles of the court case neglected to link to it and because those news articles are what dominate search engine listings related to the case, but now, for the record, here it is:

Limbu & Ors, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Ors [2008] EWHC 2261 (Admin) (30 September 2008), http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2008/2261.html

It is well worth a read to understand just why the Gurkhas are so deserving of our support in this case and in general, and to seriously bring into question how anyone can support this current Government, which is shown in a court of law to be entirely without scruples or honour.

If I have time I would like to write more about the Gurkhas. But I can’t promise anything, sadly…