Your Tax Money At Work

Yet More Data!

So it wasn\’t in fact some junior civil servant solely to blame:

As the scandal over the loss of 25 million personal records escalated, the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, was accused of misleading parliament by saying a "junior official" at HM Revenue and Customs was to blame for the loss of the data, whereas email evidence shows he was told two senior managers had authorised the procedure.

And the bank account information should never have been sent either:

It has since emerged that the National Audit Office, which had asked for the CDs, had specifically requested that bank details and other sensitive data be removed from them when it asked for other copies of the Child Benefit database in March, but a senior manager refused to do so on cost grounds.

This really is turning out to be a fest, a feast even, for connoisseurs of bureacratic incompetence.

Yet the staff member was following procedures laid down in March by senior HMRC managers when a similar request for data was made by the National Audit Office.

!!! The procedures were to send it, unencrypted, through the post! Why were the bank accounts included?

In a briefing paper sent to the Chancellor by Sir John Bourn, comptroller and auditor general, Mr Darling was told that a "senior business manager" sent an email to the NAO, which was copied to an HMRC Assistant Director, saying the information would not be "desensitised" because "it would require an extra payment to the data services provider EDS".

!!!

An almost identical breach of security involving CDs happened in September 2005, when the names, addresses, dates of birth and bank details of UBS customers were lost in the post after being posted by HMRC.

At the time, HMRC admitted that it was "not sure it is the best way to receive information" but that it was "urgently reviewing procedures to make sure this type of incident does not happen again".

Urgently reviewing? Two years is urgent?

In July this year Mr Thomas warned that data protection breaches in Government departments were "frankly horrifying".

Turning to the latest breach, he said: "It is a shocking case. I am at a loss to find out what happened in this situation.

"This goes beyond legal compliance. Any aggregated system for collecting information must be proof against criminals, it must be proof against idiots, it must be proof against those who don\’t follow the ordinary rules of procedure."

It would appear that you can in fact make a computer system idiot proof, but not bureaucrat proof.

One lesson to be drawn from this: as they cannot in fact do the simple things correctly why on earth does anyone task them with doing the complex things?

Dear, Dear, Darling

Piss ups and breweries come to mind somehow:

A series of high street banks denied asking the Chancellor to hold off before telling Parliament of the lost child benefit records.

Mr Darling insisted again yesterday that the banks had asked for more time before the announcement to get ready for inquiries from thousands of customers.

That followed his statement to MPs on Monday, in which he claimed that the banks were "adamant" that they wanted "as much time as possible".

The British Banking Association said: "The BBA did not ask for any more time. As soon as we were made aware of the security breach, banks put in place security measures to secure customer accounts.

"None of our members asked for any extra time. Clearly, everyone involved would have liked as much time as possible but banks unanimously agreed to go ahead without delay."

Now given that Darling made that statement about time being asked for to the Commons, and it now appears not to be the unvarnished truth, does that mean he\’s lied to the House and thus must go? There\’s also this:

It also emerged that the banks and Government officials have fallen out over who will compensate any defrauded customers.

The Treasury wants the banks to pay. The banks are happy to do this as long as there are guarantees that they will be refunded.

That they haven\’t, even when it was their own error, made such a guarantee is amazing.

Those Missing Records

Richard Murphy says there\’s nothing to worry about:

All that’s happened is some fairly low grade data has been mislaid.

Given the man\’s ability to be entirely and completely wrong on all issues, major and minor, from whether the sun rises in the east to whether kittens are cute, this is the moment when I start panicking.

The disaster is that we are not spending enough on good public services.

At £500 billion and rising? See what I mean?

Panic! Panic!

Update. Richard Murphy\’s comment upon myself:

Rim Worstall fell off the edge of reason long ago, so I’ll ignore him.

He also calls me a Tory which is a damn libel!

 

Bwahahahahahaha!

Gurgle:

Every parent in the country has been put at risk of fraud and identity theft after the Government lost 25 million personal records in Britain’s worst ever data protection breach.

Two compact discs containing bank details and addresses of 9.5 million parents and the names, dates of birth and National Insurance numbers of all 15.5 million children in the country went missing after a junior employee of HM Revenue and Customs put them in the post, unrecorded and unregistered.

And these are the people bringing us ID cards?

Ahaha, ahaha, ahaHAHAHAHA.

Splurt, snort.

That\’s that idea fucked then, eh?

Quite Glorious!

That NHS Spine thing. £20 billion an counting, isn\’t it? The largest IT project in the world in fact?

Nearly two-thirds of family doctors are poised to boycott the government\’s scheme to put the medical records of 50 million NHS patients on a national electronic database, a Guardian poll reveals today.

With suspicion rife across the profession that sensitive personal data could be stolen by hackers and blackmailers, the poll found 59% of GPs in England are unwilling to upload any record without the patient\’s specific consent.

Ooops! They forgot to ask whether anyone would use it, didn\’t they?

Those Iraqi Translators

Even though they are, now, being offered what was theirs as of right all along, we\’ve still got our gloriious bureaucracy, full of all of those Rolls Royce minds, cocking things up:

Iraqi interpreters who risked their lives helping the British Army are finding it very difficult to come to Britain because the Foreign and Commonwealth Office insists that they travel to Jordan or Syria first, the UN refugee agency has said.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is working with the British Government, said that new visa restrictions imposed by Jordan and Syria were causing practical problems and were effectively preventing entry to Iraqis, and suggested that the Foreign Office could have acted differently. A regional spokeswoman told The Times: “Another country succeeded in resettling their employees directly from Iraq. The visa restrictions imposed by both Jordan and Syria are making it very difficult for Iraqis to enter both countries.”

When the UN crticizes your red tape as being excessive (as opposed to the more normal "you don\’t have enough") you know you\’ve got a serious problem.

Those Wonderful Planners Again

Gosh, how wonderful of them to consider each and every detail and then make the wrong decision:

Rail industry leaders have accused the Government of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds and undermining the environmental benefits of rail travel by choosing diesel instead of electric trains.

Iain Coucher, chief executive of Network Rail, has written to the Department for Transport, describing its failure to electrify more lines as “very short-sighted”.

In the letter, a copy of which has been obtained by The Times, he says Britain risks being left with an outmoded, inefficient and increasingly expensive railway because the Government has “bet on the wrong type of fuel”.

Britain is one of the only countries in the world that continues to use diesel to power high speed trains. Only 39 per cent of the network is electrified, one of the lowest proportions of any leading European country.

In July The Times disclosed that an industry study had found that modern diesel trains were emitting so much pollution that it would be greener to travel by car.

The Government is planning to spend £1 billion on a new fleet of diesel trains, which will begin trials in 2012, start carrying passengers in 2015 and remain in service until 2045. They will emit at least double the carbon dioxide emissions per mile of a standard electric train.

I think it\’s John B who keeps telling us of the benefits of electric trains, especially if we add something interesting like regenerative braking.

Aren\’t we lucky to be ruled by such clever people?

Women and Sport

Excuse me?

The prime minister will also attack the "critical lack of investment and profile" at the elite end of women\’s sport, with no professionally paid women in team sport in the UK.

What damn business is that of yours? To have professional sports means that you have fans who are willing to pay to watch it. Either on TV or in person. That the public in general do not wish to pay to see women playing team games (well, certain forms of tag team "wrestling" find a ready paying market but that\’s not quite what is meant, I\’m sure) is not a market failure that needs to be corrected by the taxpayer.

It found that 80% of women are doing too little exercise to benefit their health. Government guidelines say five 30-minute sessions of moderate activity a week are needed to produce health benefits, with sports bodies charged with achieving three of the five.

Quite why sports bodies should be charged with this I know not. If five 30-minute sessions is what is required that can easily be achieved by banning vacuum cleaners and washing machines. Brooms and mangles were good enough for great grandmother so they should be good enough for today\’s women.

Or, of course, we might conclude that freeing women from back breaking domestic labour was a good thing and that if they\’re not doing the necessary exercise to make up for that then so damn what? Their choice.

Olympic Costs

The most pessimistic estimates of the final bill for the London 2012 Olympics were vindicated yesterday when the most senior civil servant involved on the project admitted that the entire £2.7bn contingency fund for the project would probably be spent.

Err, no.

The admission means the final cost is likely to be at least £9.3bn, more than double the figure given in London\’s bid book, a disparity which the Labour MP Don Touhig described as "the most catastrophic piece of financial mismanagement in the history of the world".

Again, no.

What we have here is that the most absurdly optimistic estimates have been shown to be the grossly untrue guff of lying bastards. Politicians, at the risk of repeating myself. The current numbers, £ 9 billion or so, are at least potentially somewhere in sight of reality. Realistic estimates are in fact more like Wat Tyler\’s. £20 billion and counting by the time it\’s all finished. Pessimistic estimates would of course have to be north of that figure.

Sorry folks, but this ain\’t over by a long chalk. If you want pessimism, think of Wat\’s point, that this is the largest peacetime construction project ever attempted in hte UK. And think how, say, Connecting for Health, the largest IT project ever attempted, looks like coming in at £30-£40 billion or so.

Do I hear any advance on, say 0.5% of GDP in order to host an outdoor steroids party?

Fortress Britain

Hmm.

Train passengers face routine airline-style bag checks and body searches as part of a new counter-terror crackdown announced by Gordon Brown.

So, er, has anyone done the cost benefit analysis?

This could include screening luggage at major stations like London King\’s Cross or Manchester Piccadilly using mobile checking devices that can be moved around the country.

And this will achieve what? Imagine that there are terrorists, primed and ready to bomb. So we set up the screening systems and start screening people coming into a particular station. Our bombers are therefore not going to use that station on that day, are they? The only way we could keep them off the railways is to screen all stations all the time: and no one at all things that that is going to be anywhere near cost effective. Remember that this would, from the evidence of the only bombing actually on trains in memory, that this would also have to include each and every London Underground station. And, err, every bus stop.

I can\’t see the value of this at all, other than in the sense of something being seen to be done, however wasteful and futile that something is.

Glasgow Airport is cited: what, we stop cars arriving at the airport now?

It is currently unclear who will bear the costs of any security improvements.

That\’s easy. The general public in huge delays. Time equals money, you know?

Bend Over

And get ready for it.

Wates and Kier, two of the biggest construction companies in the country, have decided not to bid for any of the contracts. Meanwhile, the Olympic stadium and the aquatic centre have attracted just one bid each.

The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) had expected thousands of companies to show interest in contracts. But the construction industry is thriving and the biggest companies are concerned about the risks to their reputations and the bureaucracy involved. They have been put off by prominent troubled projects such as the Wembley and Cardiff stadiums, which were built well over budget at the contractors’ expense.

….

Tough employment conditions built into contracts — including direct labour, local labour and stringent health and safety regulations — are also forcing up prices.

The ODA will release figures today showing that all but 23 of the 1,715 workers now on site are being paid the London Living Wage or more, and 50 per cent of workers live in the capital, with one in five from local boroughs.

Yup, it\’s going to cost even more than they\’ve already admitted.

Watch Out For Your Wallets!

Now who would have guessed it?

Potential bidders for Northern Rock are pressing the government to waive a £2bn* interest bill on the stricken bank\’s outstanding £20bn loan. Their representations to the Treasury mark the opening skirmish of what could prove to be a politically damaging battle for control of the bank.

Bidders are arguing for more lenient lending conditions to Northern Rock in return for safeguarding valuable jobs in the north-east of England. One bidder has already highlighted the benefits of its bid for the job prospects of the bank\’s 5,500 workers in Newcastle and Sunderland.

Note that currently Northern Rock isn\’t actually paying interest on  that loan, although it is accumulating. So what hte bidders are asking is that the accumulated bill not be called in. Nice work if you can get it, certainly, and I certainly would blame anyone for trying it on. However, I would hope that the Government tells them to bugger off.

Either Northern Rock has a value while accruing that interest or it doesn\’t. If it does then someone will buy it. If it doesn\’t then no one will and it should be gradually shut down. By writing off the interest the Govt (or Bank, or Treasury, to taste) is simply moving money to the current shareholders, increasing the value of NR to their benefit.

As it\’s the shareholders who should be losing money in this affair this isn\’t in fact what we ought to be doing.

But pressure is likely to fall on the chancellor Alistair Darling, who is well aware that Labour has a majority of seats in the north- east and needs to protect them ahead of a general election. Accusations that the government, far from losing money on lending to Northern Rock, was guilty of profiteering are unlikely to play well with MPs in affected constituencies.

Unions in the region, already agitated at delays in the bidding process, could also exert pressure on the government to relax lending rules to allow a bid to go through.

But if the interest is foregone, it\’ll be for that reason. Politics. For, as we know, politicians do things that benefit politicians, not things that benefit you and me.

* One question though. How does borrowing £20 billion for three months at 7% give you a £2 billion interest bill? £350 million, surely?

Going to the Rugger

Bob Piper\’s got an interesting story.

Well, whaddaya know? Davy and his pals all went to the rugger final too… by private jet, provided by that bloke who doesn\’t know where he lives.

I seem to remember that someone else was at the same match as well.

Davy and his pals went on private money. El Gordo went on the taxpayers\’ shilling.

Which would you prefer? That if a politician wishes to attend a rugby match that someone else pays for it or that you do?

What a Surprise!

Fortnightly bin collections have been blamed for an epidemic of fly-tipping which cost taxpayers an estimated £73 million to clean up last year.

And, of course, fortnightly collections were imposed to save money.

Well done chaps! Joined up government at its best.

Eh?

How does this work again?

And if anybody still thinks that health care operates in a free market, try going to a doctor and buying health care. You know, just like you go to McDonald\’s. You get your treatment (hamburger and fries) and you pay your bill. Only, you can\’t just pay your bill, you also have to pay a New York State surcharge. Why are you paying this surcharge? Because … you are ACTUALLY PAYING FOR YOUR HEALTHCARE. You must be some sort of rich person! If you were truly deserving, you would be on medicare like any sane poor person is, so NYS charges you extra for paying in cash.

??

A Good Day To Bury Bad News

The miserable fuckers:

On Tuesday, when attention was on the Queen’s Speech, the Government lodged its appeal anyway.

What appeal was that then? The Chagos Islanders\’ case of course.

The legal battle began in earnest in 1998 and, in 2000, they won their first victory when the Divisional Court ruled that the deportations were unlawful and “official zeal in implementing those removal policies went beyond any proper limits”. The Government did not appeal and Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary at the time, agreed that the islanders should be allowed to return to any of the islands except Diego Garcia.

Then came September 11, 2001. The military base of Diego Garcia – with its B52 bombers, surveillance aircraft and support facilities – became a vital launchpad for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is also where top al-Qaeda suspects are allegedly held and interrogated.

In 2004 the Government abruptly issued two Orders in Council, allowing it to bypass Parliament to negate the court ruling. In 2006 the High Court ruled that the Government’s move was unlawful and “repugnant” and, in May this year, the Court of Appeal agreed. It accused the Government of abusing its power: “The freedom to return to one’s homeland, however poor and barren the conditions of life, is one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings.”

The Lords granted the Government leave to appeal last week, provided that it paid all costs regardless of the outcome. Supporters of the Chagossians begged the Government not to prolong the agony of the islanders. In a letter to The Times a cross-party group of MPs and peers referred to Gordon Brown’s recent speech on liberty and declared: “For the FCO to proceed with a further appeal would waste more public funds, delay justice for the Chagossians and expose the Prime Minister’s words as hollow. Can we please have a return to good sense, justice and British liberties?”

Have you ever come across a better case for post-partum abortion?

Politicians, hang them all.

Thomas Slab Murphy

Looks like they\’re getting him on the Al Capone prosecution:

Thomas "Slab" Murphy, said to be a shadowy figure within the IRA underworld, was arrested after an investigation that began 20 months ago when British and Irish police surrounded his farm on the Irish border.

In March 2006, the police found several tankers, an underground pipeline, bags of cash and laptops when they raided the property on the Co Armagh/Co Louth border. It was claimed at the time that he used an escape tunnel to evade arrest.

Murphy, 58, was arrested on Wednesday night after attending a Gaelic football match near Dundalk, the border town in the Irish Republic that was once a hideout for fugitive IRA men.

He appeared yesterday at Ardee District Court, Co Louth, in the Irish Republic, and made no reply when faced with nine charges of tax evasion alleging he owed a total of £1.74 million.

If you can\’t get Capone for murder, smuggling, theft etc, try him for tax evasion.

ID Card Costs

Again, this is hardly a surprise, is it?

The proposed ID card is likely to cost at least £100 when it is introduced in two years.

If they\’d announced the true cost at the beginning the project would never have got off the ground….which is why they didn\’t reveal the true cost at the beginning, of course.

£ 30 Billion More Pissed Away

Yes, they\’ve done it again. Wasted even more of your and my money.

Suburban Britain has been betrayed by the failure of a £30 billion urban regeneration scheme that was meant to improve inner cities, it has emerged.

Billions of pounds collected from taxpayers in the suburbs over the past decade has been used to pay for projects to improve life in poor areas of large cities. But a report shows that despite the money pumped into these schemes, they have failed to make any difference.

It\’s a fairly large chunk of change, isn\’t it? The response is as anyone would predict:

John Healey, the local government minister, said: "We totally reject these claims. The scale of positive change is clear. However, deep-rooted pockets of deprivation still exist which no one single approach can tackle. We will continue to improve the prosperity of these areas through the £2 billion announced last month through the comprehensive spending review."

Well, yes, of course you will John. It\’s not about actually doing anything effective, it\’s about being seen to be delivering money to your supporters in those inner cities. How are you going to continue to harvest their votes if you\’re not seen to be robbing Peter to pay Paul?