Many of us across Leeds North West constituency and from all walks of life have come to rely on the internet. We use it to book holidays on line, to check road conditions before travel, for downloading music and so on. Over the Christmas period major retailers declared that their internet sales had rocketed but in-store sales had either held steady or declined.
The government has also seen the value of the internet and so a lot of information regarding public services may be accessed via the web. This government would not be true to its crude ideological self, however, if it merely provided information over the net. So it was no surprise for us when we discovered that ministers such as Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson and Francis Maude have grasped the opportunity not only to provide public information but also to sell their policies too.
Don’t let us be too polite about this – the Government is feeding us propaganda.
Take the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), for example. On the face of it the Agency’s home page of the website looks straight forward enough.
When you open it you will see that at the top of its homepage it provides useful links that will help us get a tax disc for our vehicle, a V5C (logbook) or show us how to tell DVLA that our vehicle is now off the road. Any visitor to the website would welcome such clarity.
This is right and proper. But placed immediately below these links the same page boldly makes a different type of statement. It reads:
UK to be the G8’s “most digital government” by next year, with billions of savings in sight
The statement, placed in the most prominent central position, is itself created as a link and if visitors click on it, this is what they will read:
The government is on track to save taxpayers £500 million this year by tackling waste and inefficiency in its IT spend, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, announced today. The minister also committed to making the UK the “most digital government” in the G8 by 2015 and unveiled plans to put driving records online.
Consider this carefully:
1. The government is using a taxpayer resourced public service, DVLA, as a platform by which it makes claims about itself as a government.
2. The government is making a statement of judgement not fact and linking it to an aspiration. British democratic principles require that such public statements should be open to challenge.
3. The statement has been issued not by the Secretary of State for Transport, Owen Paterson, but the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude. He has no responsibility for transport.
We regard this as political propaganda. Using a government department’s homepage is the equivalent of a political party using the walls of a hospital or school as poster sites in order to promote their policies and paying for it out of taxpayers’ pockets.
But just suppose for a moment that it isn’t. If we accepted that the statement, “most digital government”, was non-political it would be reasonable to expect that other on-line government public services would also make this claim …. but strangely enough they do not.
We looked at the Department of Work and Pensions and found boasting about employment figures, not very subtle threats about ‘fraud’ and the danger of benefit tourism. However, we could find no indication that the department is introducing a massive computerisation programme that will be necessary if the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith’s dream of a single universal credit is to be realised. By December last year the dream had turned into a nightmare. But you would not believe there was any problem if you visited the DWP website.
Propaganda is not just a matter of what you say but also a matter of what you don’t say.
So Francis Maude telling us of the success of the Government’s digital changes across public services is propaganda. Iain Duncan Smith not telling us of the digital disaster at the Department of Works and Pensions is also propaganda.
What information is Iain Duncan Smith not telling us but could and should?
He is not telling us that:
1. the introduction of universal credit has been postponed from 2013 until 2017:
2. the National Audit Office has damned the introduction of the universal credit project as not having achieved value for money;
3. the DWP has written off £40.1m of assets developed for the programme as it will never use them;
4. the DWP now expects to write down £91.0 million of the remaining assets to nil value by March 2018, due to the considerable reduction in their expected useful life;
5. the digital revolution at the DWP is in chaos and is costing the taxpayer millions of pounds;
6. Margaret Hodge, the Chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee says these are “truly shocking” figures and likely to become worse;
7. Iain Duncan Smith sought to bury bad news about the delay of the Universal Credit welfare reform programme on the same day as the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement when most people were more likely to be concerned by the impact of Gideon Osborne’s statement rather than Iain Duncan Smith’s report of his own incompetence!!
Not content with being bank-rolled by millionaires and raising money through ‘access’ to ministers, sponsorship dinners and so on, the Tories are using our money – our taxes – to big up their alleged ‘successes’ on government websites.
So next time you check up on the conditions for welfare benefits or go online to renew your vehicle licence we suggest that you just check out what information you are being offered.
If you did this today (16 January 2014), you might see, for example, what the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is offering you.
At present if you clicked online, the home page will tell you about how ‘great’ the government is in protecting UK food names, or cutting red tape or planting trees.
But following some of the worst floods in living memory for many people in the west and south of the country there is not one word, NOT ONE WORD, about flooding or flood defences. For the record, as of today (16 January 2014), the Environment Agency has 26 flood warnings in place.
Britain Can Do Better Than This
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