Saturday, July 06, 2002

Kablenet posted a couple of articles about the Entitlement Card vision from the Home Office, including a specatularly obtuse comment from SchlumbergerSema. The points that they make are reasonable though as the plan calls for 'involve the creation of a high quality population register, assigning every UK resident a unique personal number that could be used across the public sector'. Setting up something like this would be a huge challenge and require a lot of IT focus - at a time when the NHS and Criminal Justice are going to be absorbing a lot of attention. My own sense is that a single number would make delivering real benefits through e-government much simpler. But the effort to introduce it is not something that anyone understands yet - cross-matching existing databases to the new number alone would be a huge task, let alone the logistics of issuing the new identifier and performing the necessary checks. One for a lot of people to put their thinking caps on for I think. And a lot of people have been doing that it seems ... The Guardian (twice in fact, once with 'people' and once with doctors at the BMA annual conference), The BBC, Computing and The Times. And probably loads of others, although I couldn't find anything in The Sun (but I couldn't find their search engine either). In my naive way, I thought that the point of going to consultation was to collect all these views together, see what the good and bad points are, whether the bad ones can be overcome and then go ahead. It would be pretty daft to publish a full strategy with all the implications boxed and costed before you went to consultation. Maybe I just don't get it. Anyway, I've got the papers (more than 200 pages or so) and plan to go through them to see what it's all about. My focus would, as always, be on the implementation end. The best thing about my job is that I don't get to do policy. That would be a bad place for me to be. So the logistics of "ID" or "entitlement" cards would occupy my thinking ... how would you number them, what biometric, what kind of reader would you need, which standards would you use (if there even are any), where would people get them, how would the new numbers be matched to old numbers in existing databases. Then the good bit comes, which is what would you do with them if you had figured them out ... 95%+ of people who are eligible for child benefit claim it, but only 77% or so of those who should actually claim child tax credit - is that a problem you could address with a single ID number? Could we reduce the amount of government mail that goes astray by having an ID number? Maybe if banks used it and when they sent dividend/interest records to the Inland Revenue, the address was checked against the one on file. Bottom line for me, in a very personal opinion, is I don't see how you do joined up, citizen focused government - whether offline or online - without something like this. It might take years to build it and roll it out and it would certainly stretch government's implementation ability, but show me another way to get the same benefits. I liked Steve Voss' thoughts on Kable.

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