8 Months after he picked up the keys to No11 it is difficult to discern any clear pattern or purpose to Philip Hammond’s Chancellorship.

His most decisive action to date has been to cancel the annual ritual of a spring budget. The one he presents to the House in two weeks’ time will be the last. In future the budget is to be rolled into the autumn statement and delivered before Christmas. It’s a sensible reform but scarcely spectacular. On all matters economic the Chancellor has ceded visibility, if not control, not only to the PM but also to other ministers, particularly Boris Johnson, even to David Davies. March the 8th will be his moment in the sun and a chance to answer the question “what is Philip Hammond for?”

On taking office last July the new Chancellor spoke about a “new phase” for the economy. Contrary to some of the reporting at the time and some of the comment that has filled the void since then, he didn’t say that austerity was over but that it was “right to review the pace at which the government balanced the books.”  Is that review now completed? And if so will he be challenging the conclusion of the IFS Green Budget which claimed last week that “The rate of reduction (in levels of day-to-day public service spending) is set to speed up after this year, with cuts of nearly 4% due between 2016–17 and 2019–20”?

This matters because it is these kinds of numbers that have led Lord Porter the chairman of the LGA, to warn this week that services supporting very vulnerable people are “at breaking point”.  Lord Porter, the Conservative leader of South Holland in Lincolnshire, subsequently said he was “hugely disappointed” by the funding settlement for councils which was set out by the Communities Secretary in a written statement  to parliament yesterday: “As we continue to bring the deficit down” wrote Sajid Javid “local government, must continue to play its part”.

Trolleys in corridors have become a familiar picture on the front pages this winter and such has been the level of disquiet on the government’s own benches that the Chancellor will surely have something in the budget for the NHS. Anything less will risk mutiny. But doctors and hospitals are part of an ecology of care that reaches out through domiciliary services, reduces need through strong public health programmes and builds resilience and wellbeing through a diverse range of community services.  So the question is not about whether Mr Hammond responds to the crisis but about whether he sticks a bandage on the creaking fabric of an acute sector that faces irreconcilable trajectories of demand and resource or  becomes the first chancellor to really grip the necessity for prevention and for a cross government “need reduction strategy” stretching beyond the NHS, into other arms of government, particularly local government, and on to the community sector where some of the most effective (and cost effective) work is already going on. Our own work on a community development approach to the early detection of cancer for instance has increased the take up of cancer screening appointments in east London by 15%.

Clinicians at the huge and ferociously overworked London Hospital just down the road from Community Links tell me that one in five beds are taken up by patients whose condition is caused by, or seriously exacerbated by, diabetes. We know that more than half of all Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by simple life style changes and the most basic early action. Ultimately it is only a sustained investment in this kind of preventative work that will enable our hospital, and the many others like it, to deliver the high quality acute services that they should be delivering.

The budget that the Chancellor is writing could buy enough new trolleys to placate his own side of the House for a few months more or it could set out the simple but ground breaking measures for the longer term transition to a preventative economy that I suggested in my address to the All Party Parliamentary Group last year  and that we have detailed in the various publications of the Early Action Task Force. It’s time to decide Mr Hammond. What are you for?

Original source – linksUK

About six million people a year visit mySociety’s Freedom of Information website WhatDoTheyKnow.com; there are well over 100,000 registered users, and over 385,000 requests have been made via the service.

Of course, it’s fantastic that WhatDoTheyKnow is so well used, but the growth and popularity of the site brings its own challenges, not least the day-to-day admin that keeps the site running.

Many aspects of the site’s operation are run by volunteers, supported by mySociety’s staff and trustees — and due to the site’s success we’re looking to expand the volunteer team.

What does volunteering involve?

The work is pretty varied, but there are some frequent and recurring tasks:

Dealing appropriately with requests to remove material from the website

This is one interesting challenge which arises fairly often. Sometimes these requests are from public bodies who’ve released information they didn’t mean to; and they can also come from individuals and companies who are named in correspondence on the site.

These decisions are not always as black and white as you might expect. Some recent examples where we had to carefully consider the balance on both sides were:

Responding promptly and accordingly to accidental releases

Thankfully, the frequency with which public bodies accidentally release personal information in bulk via Freedom of Information responses is decreasing, but the WhatDoTheyKnow team still have to act promptly when this does occur.

Supporting users

We often help users on both sides of the FOI process. For requesters, we can answer questions about FOI and how to use it, and we also work with the staff of public bodies who are at the receiving end of requests.

And all the rest

There’s always more that can be done to promote the service, draw attention to interesting correspondence on the site, and lobby for improvements to our access to information laws.

The wider team at mySociety help people around the world to establish and run their own online Freedom of Information services; and new features are being added to the UK site to make it more attractive to professional users such as journalists and campaign groups. Volunteers have the opportunity to get involved in these activities, helping steer the direction of new projects, based on their frontline experience of being a site administrator.

Keeping the database of thousands of public bodies up to date is another challenge, especially given the frequency of reorganisations in the UK’s public sector.

Commitments

We work primarily by email, with regular video conferencing meetings, and occasionally meet up in person.

As a volunteer, you can decide how much time you put in, and what aspects of running the service you decide to take part in — but ideally we’re looking for people who can spare at least an hour or two, a couple of days a week.

We understand that people’s external commitments vary over time, and of course, there’s a flexible approach if a team member needs to step away for a stretch now and then.

What makes a good WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer?

There’s one characteristic that all the WhatDoTheyKnow volunteers have in common: a belief in the value of Freedom of Information, or, more widely, the expectation of transparency and accountability from the bodies which citizens fund.

As for practical skills: perhaps you’ve been involved in moderating discussions on the web, or have experience with access to information, defamation, or data protection law. Or perhaps you have, or would like to gain, experience dealing with “customers” by email.

Primarily we’re looking for people capable of making good judgements, and who can communicate clearly online.

Before joining the team, new volunteers will have to agree to follow our policies covering subjects such as security and data protection. That said, part of the role may be, if desired, taking a part in developing and refining these, and other, policies as the service grows and changes.

How to apply

If helping us run WhatDoTheyKnow sounds like the kind of thing you’d be interested in doing, then please do apply to join us.

We only have the capacity to bring on and train a few volunteers at a time, and it is important that those chosen to help administer the service are trustworthy and committed to its policies, direction and non-partisan stance. For these reasons, we are recruiting volunteers via a formal application process.

To apply please write to us before the 20th of March 2017, introducing yourself, and letting us know about any relevant interests or experience you have.

What do we offer in return?

As a volunteer, the main reward comes from the satisfaction of assisting users, making good decisions, and helping run what is fast becoming a key part of the country’s journalistic and democratic infrastructure.

Volunteers may be invited to mySociety events and meet-ups, providing a chance to take part in discussions about the future direction of the service and the organisation’s activities more generally. There have been a number of conferences held, where those running Freedom of Information sites around the world have got together to share experiences: one or more volunteers may be invited to join in, with travel expenses paid.

Other ways to help out

If volunteering to join the WhatDoTheyKnow team isn’t for you, perhaps there’s something on mySociety’s Get Involved page that is — or you could:

Image: MarkBuckawicki [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Original source – mySociety

Summary

Dragon has been digging and has some awkward questions

My question for the City Deal Assembly is as follows:

“Please can I table the following Q for item 8 at http://scambs.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=1073&MId=6848&Ver=4 (three campuses)

Just over a year ago, you published this press release at http://www.gccitydeal.co.uk/citydeal/news/article/35/public_consultation_proposed_to_tackle_congestion_between_cambridge_and_haverhill on the options available for dealing with congestion south-east out of Cambridge towards Haverhill. Much of the traffic coming into Cambridge comes down Cherry Hinton Road – where I live down. I am now on medication because of the impact of the worsening air quality due to the extended traffic jams down that road.
I note the City Deal Board rejected Rail Haverhill’s proposals in Feb 2016. I would like to challenge that decision based on very strong assumptions given to the consultants in carrying out their assessment as described in the draft rail viability technical note Jan 2016.
(It’s appendix B of “REPORT NO 70012014-003 A1307 HAVERHILL TO CAMBRIDGE CORRIDOR DRAFT CONCEPTS REPORT”)
The authors state:
“A Cambridge-Haverhill railway line could also ultimately form part of a more strategic rail link from Cambridge to Colchester, via Haverhill and Sudbury, including the existing Sudbury to Marks Tey branch. However, this strategic option is beyond the scope of this technical note and the current study.”
This strategic option is central to the business case for Haverhill, for it links by rail the two campuses of Anglia Ruskin University (Chelmsford & Cambridge via Colchester)
Who made the decision to restrict this strategic option for Rail Haverhill to be between just the town and Cambridge Station?
I call on you to ask The Board to
A) Run a brief crowd-sourcing exercise to invite people to suggest what refreshed assumptions should be applied to a reappraisal of the rail option
B) Commission the consultants to re-appraise the Rail Haverhill option subject to the following assumptions:
1) That the Rail Haverhill proposals will be as part of the national rail network linking Colchester-Sudbury-Haverhill-Cambridge-Wisbech
and then…
2) That Rail Haverhill will be part of the Connect Cambridge Light Rail proposals”
My question for the city deal board is as follows:
“The City Deal Board announced an award of £50,000 of funding for research into the Cambridge Bullet Bus (reported at http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cambridge-news/city-deal-invests-futuristic-120-12124803). I have not been able to find any explanation into this project online – the complete opposite of the case for Rail Haverhill and for Cambridge Connect Light Rail.
Please can the City Deal Board:
1) release a formal document explaining at least the basics of what the bullet bus project actually is, and the considerations made before approving the release of £50,000 of funding for research for this project (which seemed to come out of the blue)
2) please comment on whether they will be willing to fund the necessary technical and financial feasibility studies for Rail Haverhill and the Cambridge Connect proposals in tranche 2 as part of the research budgets. I find it astonishing that such proposals were swept aside in tranche 1 given the levels of growing public support for both projects which have had extended publicity on the work already done, compared to the bullet bus project
3) please comment on how you will ensure the public – and in particular the academic community & experts in & around Cambridge will be able to scrutinise the assessments you make on the cost/benefits of proposals put forward given the disquiet of your conclusions originally for the rail haverhill project.”
The problem is that all of the detailed papers are not listed or uploaded to the City Deal website – note the few papers listed at http://www.gccitydeal.co.uk/citydeal/downloads/download/1/documents
Recall that Cambridge City Council also has a similar issue with this ***very juicy store*** of planning documents (https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/public/ldf/coredocs/https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/public/ldf/coredocs/)  that haven’t been properly listed and publicised. Because if you click on that link and go to ‘RD_STRAT’ (https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/public/ldf/coredocs/RD-STRAT/) you’ll find, if you are an historian that document no. 430 part 1 and no 430 part 2 are none other than scans of the 67 year old Holford-Wright Report of 1950 that shaped the post-war Cambridge that we know today – prior to the building work post-millennium.

Original source – A dragon’s best friend

This post outlines a recent production issue on GOV.UK and how it was resolved. We’ve blogged in the past about what happens when things go wrong on GOV.UK, and also how we classify and prioritise incidents.

What happened

On the afternoon of 5 January 2017, we upgraded to a newer version of jQuery, which briefly caused some GOV.UK pages to fail to display content.

jQuery is a Javascript library that makes for a simplified way of writing Javascript code. Using a code library in a project allows access to pre-built functionality, meaning that you don’t need to code it yourself.

When a library is updated, the maintainers of that library will assess the potential damage of their changes. If the change is very minor, it is considered ‘non-breaking’ and therefore unlikely to break anything on sites which include it. Although this update in jQuery was documented as non-breaking, it caused a breaking change in the jQuery Tabs plugin that we use on calendars and transaction start pages.

What users saw

Any pages with the jQuery Tabs plugin did not display content between 3:13pm and 5:23pm. Content still displayed for users that did not have Javascript enabled.

The most affected pages were:

/bank-holidays
/apply-renew-passport
/apply-online-to-replace-a-driving-licence
/apply-first-provisional-driving-licence
/student-finance-register-login
/change-address-driving-licence
/view-driving-licence
/renew-driving-licence-at-70
/renew-driving-licence

The resulting Javascript errors were recorded in Google Analytics, which told us that /bank-holidays (a very highly trafficked page on GOV.UK) hit 59,089 errors during the course of the incident. The second most affected page was /apply-renew-passport which had 18,255 errors.

The /bank-holidays page, for instance, failed to show the upcoming bank holidays for the different parts of the UK.

Broken bank holidays page

Users should have been presented with the dates of upcoming bank holidays:

Working bank holidays page

How we responded

We rolled back the jQuery upgrade in the Static application to the previous jQuery version. Static is where global templates (headers, footers and components that are common to a lot of pages) are defined for GOV.UK pages.

We make use of caching on GOV.UK – once a user has visited a page, content will be stored in memory to prevent the browser from having to re-request it from the server. The benefit of this is that the page should load faster.

After deploying the rollback of Static, we purged the most affected pages from our caches so that users would see the fixed version straight away.

What we’re doing to prevent this from happening again

We’re implementing better alerting for Javascript errors so we notice problems with page rendering before they affect users. We will begin by investigating the volume of Javascript errors that we are encountering. We will store these in Graphite (a graphing tool that allows us to draw graphs of various metrics that we put into it) in order to determine a threshold beyond which alerts should be triggered.

We are investigating how to integrate visual regression testing into the deployment process for the Static application. Visual regression testing will generate screenshots of webpages on different environments (in this case staging and production), with the differences between them highlighted. This provides a mostly automated way of telling if something doesn’t look quite as expected.

We’re also making sure Smokey, an application which runs automated tests that describe high-level user journeys, can catch and handle Javascript errors.

Rosa is a developer on GOV.UK. You can follow her on Twitter.

Original source – Inside GOV.UK

Summary

We get lots of reports that get launched with a big fanfare, but who does the progress checks?

Before I start: Democracy Cambridge on Facebook <<<— Please click here and *Like* (and share!)

This in part stems from my blogpost of yesterday and the problems of local government as it continues to move away from being a grant distributor under Labour in the 2000s to this age of rapid technological and social change along with the financial cuts post-2010 in an era of fragmented public services. That’s to say nothing of Brexit or DonnyT.

Losing count of the number of ‘fire and forget’ future visions for Cambridge

Half of them are probably mine and most of those are past blogposts! I jest. Actually, Puffles manifesto for 2014 was nothing if not a future vision for Cambridge. Does it stand the test of time? Have a look at the manifesto and judge for yourself. Furthermore, the city council has started implementing parts of that manifesto – which me and Puffles think is ***splendid***. The council started with doing an audit of community venues and service provision. They are now consulting on their Community Services Strategy that builds on this – an excellent piece of evidence-based policy-making.

Last week, Cllr Richard Johnson, executive councillor for communities announced the council would be spending £10,000 ‘to explore how best to involve the City’s 12 – 15 year olds in decision making’ (See his press release here). I refer Cambridge’s councillors to the Young People’s theme of Puffles’s manifesto of 2014.  The formal details of Cllr Johnson’s amendment to secure the £10,000 is in the document BSR Executive Amendment via this link. (****Why do they bury all of the important stuff?!?!****)

So…that’s 20% of Puffles’ manifesto that the city council are currently working on. On Thursday I get to ask them about air quality and all things green. If Cambridge gets a low emissions zone and/or restrictions on highly polluting vehicles coming into Cambridge, that will bring us up to 30%.

“What about the other visions?”

Here’s 24 from autumn 2015.

To try and summarise each one in a single line:

  1. Lara Allen: “Equality – yay!” But few specifics
  2. Anne Bailey: Overhaul education – drag out of Victorian age & make lifelong
  3. Alan Blackwell: Make Cambridge more self-governing but direct privileges to the poor (‘King’s Hedges College, Cambridge’)
  4. Julian Bowrey: Expand city boundaries & make single unitary authority
  5. David Cleevely: Cambridge to be even bigger than Julian Bowrey says, with driverless cars & smart tech
  6. Ben Cowell: Wicken Fen & the countryside is coming to get you!
  7. Douglas Crawford Brown: 80% of buildings in 2065 around have already been built – retrofit.
  8. @CambsCC: “East West Rail – yay!” “Bikes – yay!” “Choice of transport – yay!”
  9. Bob Dennison/Stagecoach: “Buses/multiple person travel pods – yay!”
  10. Rachel Drury: “Art and science – yay!” “Festivals without pollution – yay!”
  11. Lynsi Hayward Smith: Skills – do we have them? How will demand/needs change?
  12. Rachel Jones: My life in a day – at 95
  13. Peter Landshoff: Old people – more of them (us?) with growing needs
  14. Lewis Herbert: “Here’s our 2015 manifesto” – does it stand the test of time?
  15. Ian Lewis: We’ll grow even more than what David Cleevely said
  16. Theresa Marteau: Smoke-free city, safe booze, healthier population
  17. Anna McIvor: Sustainable green living FTW.
  18. Roger Mitchell: Heritage, culture & leisure connected – all green & sustainable
  19. John Miles: “My bullet bus – yay!”
  20. Tony Raven: How the bloody hell am I supposed to know? In 1965 no one predicted Facebook!
  21. Claire Ruskin: Dammit we’re good!
  22. Jeremy Sanders: University of Cambridge has these needs – which you will deliver on
  23. Emma Thornton: We have World Heritage Status – yeah, back off parasitical developers!
  24. Jane Wilson: We’re going to grow our lovely & green centre outwards, not build more ‘nice centre surrounded by suburbia’ units.

Now, all of the above are a mix of tongue-in-cheek, a bit of humour and trying to take the important bits.

24 people will give you more than 24 different visions. All of the people concerned are either eminent in their fields locally and/or are well-connected due to their workplace. If I took you to meet the Abbey People or to Arbury, The St Matthew’s Estate on East Road, the council houses that friends and children I went to school with grew up in, you might get different views of what Cambridge 2065 might be like. Dare I say it, in some fields they might be even more radical than the above-24 because they are not constrained by professional or institutional boundaries. Also, children in particular generally have a better understanding of what the future is going to be like compared with older adults because they are living and learning with the technology in a way that we never did at school.

Why it’s important to look at past predictions of the future

The map below is from 1958 – a study overseen by WL Waide, our county planner on the future of Cambridge as he predicted for 2011 – showing proposed cycleways and secondary schools. The secondary school for Abbey Ward is under construction. There isn’t one for Fulbourn. The second schools for Histon/Impington & Girton haven’t been built. One of the two predicted in Trumpington has just opened, and the one for Shelford has not been planned. Oh – and we never got the city-wide cycle network.

img_6691

And this was in the days when car was king!

“Are there any principles that stand out?”

Yes – a number. At some stage collectively we’ll have to grasp the nettles, get stung and keep going…or change direction if the stings are too painful!

Governance, controls, structures, systems and processes

The boring but essential stuff. Get this wrong and we can forget about everything else. The thing is there will always be a tension between what businesses want (i.e. a single point of contact and a single decision-maker) vs what residential communities want (i.e. a something that stops the local authority from allowing stuff they don’t like from being built in their neighbourhood). Part of the conversation – that Julian Bowrey quite rightly examined, was on the nature of civic governance our Cambridge of the future should have. Personally I could only see a mayoral model working if an elected legislature around it had real teeth and powers to it – including the ability to veto deputy mayoral appointments and to direct the mayor to undertake specific actions (or block the mayor if necessary).

A civic culture

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read about the wealth of talent Cambridge has. So why are we blessed with the most mediocre of new building designs and see so little of the scientific, engineering, artistic and cultural talent transferring across to local public policy and party political fields? One of the things I continually challenge our city over is improving our democratic culture – hence launching Democracy Cambridge on FB so that at least people are made aware of what meetings are happening and when across our institutions – compensating for a lack of a single institution to manage all of this.

What institutions and facilities are needed to anchor things like improving health and a strengthened civic culture?

The segregated cycle network is one. Not building gated communities everywhere is another. I tear my hair out over the inconsistencies between what the likes of the Town and Country Planning Association come out with vs what the developers design and build in and around Cambridge. At least it’ll be easier to retrofit the bland facades of the etch-a-sketch designed buildings in and around Cambridge Railway Station with green walls – long after the developers and their financiers have run off with their ill-gotten gains from gaming the planning system.

Clusters – do they work for sports as well?

For me, the Newmarket Road ice rink currently in the pipeline after 30 years of waiting (I’m so getting myself a pair of ice skates to learn to skate properly – so long as the rink is on a bus route, even though I’ll be nearly 40 by the time it opens!) is a huge opportunity to build a multi-purpose sports village at the other end of the city. When I look at the maps of the city, and the predictions of the likes of David Cleevely and others, we’re going to need to plan that infrastructure now. That also includes the proposed rowing lake at Milton Country Park – if only to protect the fauna that gets killed by boats. Ducklings and cygnets are regular victims of rowing crews on a very crowded river.

Transport – beyond local

If we’re going for a city of over 200,000, more of that expansion is inevitably going to be in the east. I’ve given my preference of moving the Marshall’s Airport out to Mildenhall, linking it to Cambridge by rail along the old rail link, then having it extending out to Swaffham, circling Norwich (linking the University of East Anglia and Norwich Airport by rail) and out to Great Yarmouth. Thus it gives Cambridge a direct rail link to the seaside – and also to Great Yarmouth which is currently one of the country’s most economically deprived towns. slide1

I can imagine a few people who wouldn’t mind living by the seaside if it meant a commute to Cambridge of less than an hour and fifteen minutes on a single train. Basically if you’re going to talk of Cambridge as a regional centre – and many books from over the decades and even over a century ago use similar language, then the transport infrastructure has to match that. Again I’d think radically for this. My Cambridge-Mildenhall-Norwich-Gt Yarmouth line would be an extension of East-West-Rail, which I’d have extending out to the Welsh Coastline in the far west. I’d reopen the rail link from King’s Lynn to Hunstanton for those that want a quieter seaside stay. In the even more longer term I’d look at a line extending out from Wisbech to Boston, Lincoln, Scunthorpe and terminating at Hull. By that time I’d like to think you could be running services that could get you from Boston to Cambridge within an hour, and from Wisbech in half an hour.

“Those are big distances and not cheap”

At the moment my only barrier is ambition. Some ideas will chime with people, others won’t.

“Like that concert hall?”

Ah – a new massive concert hall for Cambridge – which I wrote about here with a specific site. It got local newspaper coverage and proved to be quite controversial (see here) but I’ve chosen to respond to the comments and brickbats thrown at my ideas rather than let the negativity reign supreme. Reach for the stars – because although you may only reach the tops of the trees, the view is just as nice.

“And the castle?”

We used to have one in Cambridge

cambridgecastleoldecastles

From http://www.ecastles.co.uk/cambridge.html though I can’t pretend it’s the most accurate representation! cambcastlehogg

There’s this one too via https://www.antique-prints-maps.com/acatalog/Cambridge_antique_prints.html

It stemmed from an exchange with Norwich Castle

They kept their castle, why didn’t we? More to the point, if Cambridge ends up with a unitary authority, that leaves a vacant Shire Hall that could easily be turned into a hotel, and having a rebuilt castle acting as a big extension to the Museum of Cambridge. My thinking on this is that you’d make the castle to be expanded in scale (sort of like the modern ‘Mini’ cars vs their 1960s originals) that could also be home of the city/county archives, rather than in the big warehouse at Ely that’s planned.

Remember it was the gaming of our planning system that led to proposals for the county archives being at Cambridge Railway Station (the old mill silo – see pg3 of this) being dropped. ***This should have been our new historical and cultural centre***

2005spillersmillsilo

but instead greedy developers hoodwinked the city council and instead we’re getting a bland block

cambridgenewmill

…that will be useless to everyone except the London commuters that live in it – and the landowner collecting rent.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, we can come up with all of the wonderful ideas in the world, but while ministers and senior politicians allow developers and their paymasters to behave like this, ideas is what they will remain.

 

 

 

Original source – A dragon’s best friend

Late last year we held a Technology Leaders Network meeting to look at the government’s use of Software as a Service (SaaS). Our session focussed on busting the common SaaS myths we hear in order to increase adoption and maintain the effectiveness of on-demand software. These are the main 4 myths in no particular order.

Myth 1: SaaS isn’t secure

Perhaps the biggest myth about SaaS is that it lacks security. There seems to be a common misconception across government that SaaS isn’t as secure as on-premise software. Of course there are some weaknesses but that is true of any technology.

A competent SaaS provider has a large budget for security and can invest heavily in mitigating all common risks. If you have a security breach, a provider has a team available to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week available to tackle any issues. It often wouldn’t be cost-effective for Government departments to match such a comprehensive level of service, which is why we’ve recently published some guidance on public sector use of the public cloud.

Myth 2: You can’t use SaaS for serious applications

This myth relates to the idea that SaaS isn’t suitable for big business or government departments . Sometimes cloud services aren’t developed enough for use in government. But there are many areas where SaaS solutions are ideal, such as project management and planning, email and HR.

There are many advantages to using SaaS for major systems, including:

  • you won’t need to do any patching or software upgrades
  • you will get automatic access to new features
  • you will have international, enterprise-grade security (as outlined in myth one)

In terms of disadvantages, the government has lots of capital expenditure and this can make it difficult to get your use of SaaS agreed.

Myth 3: You should block access to SaaS apps you haven’t bought

If staff aren’t given adequate tools to deliver in their job, then you run the risk of them going out and finding their own alternatives. If this happens then employers have no visibility or control over what is being used. Alternatively, if staff are given access to options that are approved, you can integrate those tools and ensure they are being used securely.

The Common Technology Services (CTS) team recently conducted a survey looking at the most common technology issues encountered by staff across the Civil Service. One of the key issues that came up was being able to find people working on a particular project without knowing their name of job title. Many noted that they had resorted to using websites like LinkedIn to track down colleagues, but not all departments allow access to external sites. At GDS it’s not uncommon to see people reach out via Slack, asking if anyone can point them in the right direction or make an introduction.

Some departments have stated that they haven’t allowed access to tools like Slack because they don’t have the capacity to research them. The Technology Leaders Network agreed to put together guidance on tools they use, outlining their pros, cons and security considerations. Having one centralised piece of guidance that is always being updated will remove the risk for departments using these tools and help allow wider access for civil servants.

Myth 4: SaaS is just about saving money

To demonstrate this point, we had a live demonstration of a virtual desktop which allows users access to their documents from any supported device. The demo showed that not only is the service cost effective but user friendly and flexible.

What next?

The Technology Leaders Network plans to publish more guidance on SaaS products. Giving departments confidence to use SaaS services should help ensure civil servants have the tools they need to do their jobs efficiently.

We would be interested in hearing what SaaS products are helping your organisation. Leave a comment or email us to let us know.

You can also read a summary of the meeting from Jon Lawrence, Technical Director for Assurance at the National Cyber Security Centre.

You can sign up now for email updates from the Government Technology blog or subscribe to the feed.

Original source – Government technology

Late last year we held a Technology Leaders Network meeting to look at the government’s use of Software as a Service (SaaS). Our session focussed on busting the common SaaS myths we hear in order to increase adoption and maintain the effectiveness of on-demand software. These are the main 4 myths in no particular order.

Myth 1: SaaS isn’t secure

Perhaps the biggest myth about SaaS is that it lacks security. There seems to be a common misconception across government that SaaS isn’t as secure as on-premise software. Of course there are some weaknesses but that is true of any technology.

A competent SaaS provider has a large budget for security and can invest heavily in mitigating all common risks. If you have a security breach, a provider has a team available to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week available to tackle any issues. It often wouldn’t be cost-effective for Government departments to match such a comprehensive level of service, which is why we’ve recently published some guidance on public sector use of the public cloud.

Myth 2: You can’t use SaaS for serious applications

This myth relates to the idea that SaaS isn’t suitable for big business or government departments . Sometimes cloud services aren’t developed enough for use in government. But there are many areas where SaaS solutions are ideal, such as project management and planning, email and HR.

There are many advantages to using SaaS for major systems, including:

  • you won’t need to do any patching or software upgrades
  • you will get automatic access to new features
  • you will have international, enterprise-grade security (as outlined in myth one)

In terms of disadvantages, the government has lots of capital expenditure and this can make it difficult to get your use of SaaS agreed.

Myth 3: You should block access to SaaS apps you haven’t bought

If staff aren’t given adequate tools to deliver in their job, then you run the risk of them going out and finding their own alternatives. If this happens then employers have no visibility or control over what is being used. Alternatively, if staff are given access to options that are approved, you can integrate those tools and ensure they are being used securely.

The Common Technology Services (CTS) team recently conducted a survey looking at the most common technology issues encountered by staff across the Civil Service. One of the key issues that came up was being able to find people working on a particular project without knowing their name of job title. Many noted that they had resorted to using websites like LinkedIn to track down colleagues, but not all departments allow access to external sites. At GDS it’s not uncommon to see people reach out via Slack, asking if anyone can point them in the right direction or make an introduction.

Some departments have stated that they haven’t allowed access to tools like Slack because they don’t have the capacity to research them. The Technology Leaders Network agreed to put together guidance on tools they use, outlining their pros, cons and security considerations. Having one centralised piece of guidance that is always being updated will remove the risk for departments using these tools and help allow wider access for civil servants.

Myth 4: SaaS is just about saving money

To demonstrate this point, we had a live demonstration of a virtual desktop which allows users access to their documents from any supported device. The demo showed that not only is the service cost effective but user friendly and flexible.

What next?

The Technology Leaders Network plans to publish more guidance on SaaS products. Giving departments confidence to use SaaS services should help ensure civil servants have the tools they need to do their jobs efficiently.

We would be interested in hearing what SaaS products are helping your organisation. Leave a comment or email us to let us know.

You can also read a summary of the meeting from Jon Lawrence, Technical Director for Assurance at the National Cyber Security Centre.

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Original source – Government technology

Summary

Looking at some persistent problems raised at the NLGN Conference

I still keep tabs on what happens in local government policy circles – one that I found myself slap bang in the middle of some 10 years ago in my first civil service fast stream posting following my move from Cambridge to London. Not surprisingly, the tensions between central and local government remain – as they have done for centuries.

Central government decisions with local implications – that’s the entire planning system, certainly as far as Cambridge is concerned. This is because councillors are having to self-censor themselves and wave through planning applications that they would rather send back to developers, especially where the design is poor, lazy or bland.

Bad design builds in problems for the future, and community groups simply do not have the financial firepower to match the wealth of developers as they game the planning system.

The problem is that until local councils – and in particular city/municipal councils have the financial powers to raise revenue (through taxation – for example on land values, lack of use of land, or otherwise), the dependence on local councils on Whitehall will remain. Treasury is extremely reluctant to relinquish such tax and spend powers.

The structure of local councils and local government does come up with some strange statistics – especially on the number of directors.

One for each metropolitan borough. Quite understandably, there are those asking if there is a better way. We’re seeing more examples of local councils sharing chief executives, chief planning officers and so on in order to both cut costs and co-ordinate services. For Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire, it makes sense to share very senior staff dealing with housing and transport issues because they cross council boundaries.

Business rates have been in the news lately because of splits between Conservative ministers and grassroots members over the impact business rates have on small businesses.

The curse of short-term thinking

Dr Howe, who is one of the wisest people in the field of digital public services, is essential following for those of you on Twitter. The problems local councils face has been made much worse by the Brexit vote in the short-to-medium term because of the policy resources now taken up by the Brexit negotiations. Furthermore, ministerial mindsets (irrespective of party) are ones where ministers know they have a very short career-span (with v few exceptions), so have an incentive to rush things that otherwise need more time. No one remembers the minister that put in place a sound framework and stable long term strategy.

…yet if we need to move away from the pre-2010 model for local government, who will be the minister that ‘puts in place a sound framework and stable long term strategy?’

For those not aware, the pre-2010 world had a lot of grant administration to be done by local councils – especially those in economically deprived areas. This is because the Blair/Brown governments ran a number of schemes that gave money to those areas to deal with difficult problems such as multiple deprivation. On a personal note, with hindsight I can’t help but think that a fair chunk of that money should have been spent on improving public transport infrastructure – especially light and heavy rail.

Given the world we live in…

…which then makes things complicated if politicians put turbo boosters behind fake-news tactics in order to win elections.

The world in 2030?

But how many local councils have a look back at history to find out how they got to today, and assess the schemes they approved and rejected?

The above looks at some of the schemes that were proposed and rejected in Cambridge during the 20th Century. Some things proposed in the early 1930s (city-wide segregated cycling network, a pedestrian footbridge over the railway line at the station to open up an eastern entrance and thus reducing traffic on Station Road) we’re still waiting for.

2030 is when the Greater Cambridge City Deal is due to finish. For those of you not aware of the local controversies with this, the current city deal is very ‘bus-based’ as far as public transport is concerned. While residents and campaign groups are looking at things such as Cambridge Light Rail (which I back), local council officers in particular have been far less optimistic on anything other than buses.

‘A better way of working’ – where have I heard that before?

The problem with previous attempts to bring in better ways of working – ones that have failed, is that people become cynical. Why bother this time around when the last one didn’t deliver?

Who remembers all the attempts to reduce our use of email?

The unequal distribution of funding was also raised.

The problem with the above is that the shires – the county councils – are predominantly Conservative-voting. This means that unlike their urban sister councils, they are less likely to vote for increases in council tax. This remains an issue in Cambridge where a combination of Conservative and UKIP councillors voted for freezing council tax rates even though neither parties hold seats in Cambridge City. Thus, for one of the parts of the country that ministers fall over themselves to praise, we have a local government structure that gives us nothing but paralysis. I don’t expect great things from the executive mayor stitch up either. As far as Cambridge is concerned and as I have said on many occasions, this was an attempt by ministers to get control of Cambridge without having to win elections in the city.

Don’t expect any change this side of a general election

With Treasury ministers tied up with Brexit (because let’s face it, they are the only ones that count) and with Conservative party policy being no new restructuring of local government (the last one being in the 1970s), I can’t see much of significance happening unless/until there is either a major change in government policy or there is a change of government following the next general election (which has local government restructure in its manifesto/programme for government).

Original source – A dragon’s best friend

Organisational development: What is it, and where does it fit with good internal communications?

by Pamela Moffat

In the 20 or so years I have worked in Organisational Development (OD), there is one question I have always dreaded, especially if it comes from a relative or friend:

‘What do you do at work?’

Now I have a few options here that I could say:

  1. I help people (not entirely true)
  2. I help senior people make their business perform better (getting closer)
  3. I help all parts of a business work really well together (definitely moving in the right direction now)

What I know with certainty though is, that if you google OD there are more definitions of it than there are flowers in florists shop window.

Every description that I have ever taken the time to read is full of what appears to be big, fancy words that don’t make sense unless I’ve had a glass or two of wine. How can that be? I’ve been doing the job for years.

Anyway to my mind, it can be as complex or a simple as you want to be, just like anything in life, and I chose to keep it straight forward for my own sanity!

Besides I’m from the Northwest and generally if it’s beans on toast, we say its beans on toast and not a carbohydrate base with a protein topping!

It is, however, true that it has a different interpretation depending on the nature of the business and I think that makes perfect sense; there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ version of OD.

But to offer some clarity, the broad principles of what OD does, are probably similar no matter where you look.

It has a long history, born in America in the 1950’s but debated and researched from much earlier than this. Its evolution came from human psychology and sociology, so there is some science behind it, behavioural science! Even though to me it’s more of an art!

The profession has given birth to the tools we still use today such as NLP, Neuro- Linguistic Programming – it’s simply a technique to influence behaviour without having to put a metal colander with tons of wires attached to it on someone’s head. It helps us understand why people behave in certain ways at work.

So why should we care about this?  OD professionals care about everything about a business, not just the people, because people will behave according to the system they work in, the things they hear and see.  

Important to note that people need to think and feel in order to behave or act.  Like a root cause will always have a symptom.

So that in mind, a typical day in the world of an OD pro could go something like this…..

analysis of employee satisfaction data to inform the refresh of the employee engagement plan, a presentation to senior stakeholders to introduce new learning and development products then a conversation with the marketing and team on internal branding, a coaching session for a senior leader on a business change issue then off to meet with planning to discuss the next year’s business plan

and breathe…

So what does this have to do with internal communications?  Well, more recently I have heard my IC colleagues say ‘people are just indifferent to a specific communication’ and I ask….. ’but what have you written to encourage them to think?’ It doesn’t matter if people love or hate what you’ve written (there will always be a difference of opinion) indifference is a missed opportunity’.

The upshot is, I believe, that OD and IC are dependent on one another (a bit like fish and chips) and I have first-hand experience of this. I believe we need to work together to have better impact in pursuit of ‘what’ people do and ‘how’ they do it but firstly we need to understand each other better.

This includes lifting the lid on ‘what OD is’ as a starter for 10. 

What more might you want to know about the dark art?

Pamela Moffat is a senior business partner at Staffordshire County Council

image via taymtaym

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0