Headlines: January 25th, 2008

Government plans to personalise public services, which would involve greater sharing of information about people, should be resisted says a report published today. In ‘Who do they think we are? Government’s hidden agenda to control our lives’, Jill Kirby, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, says the Government’s Information Sharing vision statement set out in September 2006 now has a hollow ring to it.

She argues that the proposed introduction of ID cards for British citizens is the tip of an iceberg of personal information which is being collected. She says the strategy for the ‘transformation’ and ‘personalisation’ of public services is based on sharing personal information across departments and agencies to give the state a ‘joined up picture’ of every individual.

Jill Kirby says the Chief Information Officer warned of the dangers in evidence he gave to the Home Affairs Select Committee in November and she quotes Sir David Varney, the Prime Minister’s adviser on public service transformation, who, she claims, described how the public was not expected to see what was happening when he said, “Measured benefits, services and facilities are shared between all tiers of central and local government and other public bodies. The public do not see this process. They experience only public services packaged for their needs.”

She goes on to say that by adopting the ‘Tesco Clubcard approach’ the Government believes it will be able to anticipate demand, using customer insight and pooled intelligence to plan services. But she believes this agenda ignores the Government’s track record on implementing large IT projects, citing the collapse of the National Offender Management information system and the delays and difficulties surrounding the introduction of a National Health Service database.

Her report concludes by asking, “Do we really want to put the state in possession of such ‘a deep truth’ about the citizen’ Or is there now a stronger case than ever before for rolling back the state, decentralising service provision and putting power in the hands of individuals and families?”