UK press infiltrated by MSS

It’s felt a lot like MSS has been working with the mainstream press for the last couple of weeks (who MSS? follow this link).

e-government is no good. noone is doing any e-government. even if they were doing e-goverment it would be no good. there is no evidence whatsoever of anyone doing anything any good with e-government. the programme is doomed and it always has been. we should slit its throat. there is no e-government

Anyone else get that impression? First there was Mike Cross’ crumby and misinformed story on the Gateway, then the piece in the Times which they titled “wired at a slightly lower current” or something, another piece in the Independent about the Citizen Space forum (that was an alarmingly misinformed and factually incorrect piece) and now a piece in the Independent titled “System Error – Why UKonline failed“. That’s just a bizarre title. I don’t know a whole lot about how the press works, but it would seem to me that if MSS is not behind all this stuff, then there’s an interesting bit of orchestration going on. Who knows who runs what agenda these days?

As so often with these articles, it’s long on rhetoric and short on ideas, only repeating the tired idea that we should change the target from putting “all services online” to “only the most commonly used”. Doh! Forgive me folks, but if Self Assessment, Child Benefit, Tax Credits, PAYE, Corporation Tax, VAT and so on aren’t amongst the most commonly used, please enlighten me what is. That is by no means the complete list available today and it’s certainly true to say that some important transactions are not yet available – tax discs, housing benefit and so on – but they are in plan and will come.

I did a brief presentation at a conference yesterday, with perhaps 70 or 80 people from suppliers in the local goverment market. It was a good audience and I was able to be candid with them about what was going well, what wasn’t and what needed to be done. For a while, I’ve had an item in my do list to write the “1 page e-government” speech and I think I came pretty close to delivering it yesterday. I plan to write it up soon.

Progress is not as horrible as might be thought from some of the press. The ukonline folks have made public visitor counts to the website which show 10 fold growth in the last year or so; Comparing April figures on the Gateway over the last three years, we’ve seen growth of 10 fold year 2 to year 1 and 20 folks year 3 to year 2. Pretty good growth rates, for any online service public or private, I would have thought. If that usage rate continues through the rest of the year, and I have no reason to think it won’t, then we’ll close with a big leap from last year’s numbers and really start to make a difference.

I’m the last to say it’s done. Those in the audience yesterday will have heard me talk about “an absence of pixie dust” to make this happen by itself. There’s still a lot of hard work to do, a lot of obstinacy to remove, a world of rationalisation to do, some politics and stuff to sweep away and some really good services to design. But it can all be done. It can all be done with the right people, the right passion, the right commitment.

Of course, the way the press is running, it will sneak up on them without anyone noticing that it’s actually coming together. All of a sudden, someone will visit a website and see how good it looks, how simple it is to get what you need and how responsive the service is. A bit like the journalist who found the PRO 1901 Census site by accident and commented that it was finally live – he’s only about 9 months late, but well done nonetheless and it’s a good, balanced article.

Still, at least the Guardian knows its up. The Independent has yet to comment since it’s article in January 2002 that it wasn’t available.

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