Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Asking Some Questions

The Forked Tongue of Government

Asking Some Questions

I still have a wretched cough and cold, so my concentration is not exactly 100%, hence the somewhat rambling nature of what follows.

Should we stay in the EU or leave it?

Of course the question is academic when you live in Jersey and have no voting rights in the UK. But even if we did, unless it was the tightest of margins, Jersey would contribute a vote the size of the population of the city of Exeter – that’s not really a lot, and as Islanders would probably be just as divided as their UK counterparts, it wouldn’t weigh heavily one side or the other.

One thing is certain: there will be consequences to leaving, and consequences to staying, and some of the most important of these will be the unintended consequences. It is something which the philosopher Karl Popper was always keen to point out, that however meticulously we plan out matters, something comes along which we had not foreseen. In the meantime, expect dire threats of apocalyptic nature should we leave... or stay... and probably very little in the way of objective truth seeking.


Guarding against unknown threats is of course a problem for security on the internet, and with the “internet of things”, I suspect it will become a lot worse.

Our computer systems have seen a rise in the number of zero-day exploits – that is when there is a problem with the software which can be used and targeted by the virus writer, but which was already there, and has only just been discovered.

It’s a bit like discovering some defect in your body’s systems which make it readily prey to something nasty. The Zika virus is a good example. It exploits weaknesses that are already there in our immune systems. Of course, as with antivirus computer products, it is possible to find vaccines to stop the virus, but that requires effort, and in the meantime, the door is already wide open.

As computer systems become ever more complex, the possibility of bugs creeping into the system, with holes in security, is likely to increase. How do you test the defences against something you have not anticipated which is suddenly discovered? The hackers have devious minds, rather like the Zika virus, and seem to have an uncanny knack of finding out weak spots and exploiting them.

Leaked Threats

The BBC reports that: “Up to 50 people will lose their job in Jersey's infrastructure department under plans to save up to £5m, according to the minister in charge. A document seen by the BBC suggests up to 150 jobs could be lost in Parks and Gardens and Cleaning Services.”

Where did this document come from? In the end, trying to avoid confrontation and an honest discussion leads to these problems, as I am sure Kevin Keen pointed out when he was talking about outsourcing as an option.

Instead, we have the undignified spectacle of workers' jobs being advertised to see if there is enough interest in the private market for them – without first informing the workers that this would happen, and now what appears to be a leaked document on actual losses.

Difficult conversations are not pleasant, and no one likes them, but it is better to be honest so that people know where they stand. Hanging on and not doing anything for months - except letting all kinds of scary scenarios come out like a leaking sieve - does nothing for morale.

And Kevin Keen also mentions consultation with staff to see if they can come up with better ways of making savings. That doesn’t seem to have happened here either. Mr Keen’s idea was stop, think about ways of reducing costs or outsource, not just outsource.

Should Mike King be outsourced?

Re-reading the summary produced by Kevin Keen, I came across this little gem:

“Generally the departments are considering their own SRO initiatives (Stop, Reduce or Outsource) as part of their own efforts to produce savings and Mike King is leading a project aimed at coordinating the initiative."

This is the man responsible for the £200,000 blown on a fantasy film which only he still has hopes of ever being made, and recently has just blown an exorbitant amount of money on travel costs to South Africa, without checking with his own Minister - because it was apparently within Departmental travel guidelines (according to him)! Presumably he did not think about the guidelines to look at stop and think before spending? It is more a case of go, don't think and just spend more.

And incredibly he is being tasked with a project to stop, reduce, or outsource States spending to reduce it?!!

Certainly he is not leading by example, but perhaps he should. Can we any longer afford costly Chief Executives whose take home pay probably would keep at least 4 gardeners in gainful employment? Perhaps the time has come to outsource Mr King!

Incidentally, now that most of Housing has moved lock stock and barrel to Andium Homes, how many high flying upper ranks of management remain? Is it like the British Navy, which has seen ships reduce, but the number of Admirals remain constant?

The Forked Tongue of Ministerial Government

Kevin Keen noted that:“The States should also act strategically in their procurement, recognising other benefits that can come from local procurement in terms of employment and tax take.”

And what do we read in the Bailliwick Express less than a month ago:

“The £1.2 million contract to get the States of Jersey into the digital age has apparently been given to a UK firm after tenders by local contractors were all rejected by the States’ procurement office.”

Of course the Council of Minister’s Strategic Plan included a line that the government would: “Develop a plan to promote additional jobs and growth in the Technology sector, with a particular focus on Fintech.”

Another case of saying one thing, and doing another.

Or as we used to say when we played “Cowboys and Indians” as children, “white man speaks with forked tongue”.

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