21 November 2007

Darling´s database disaster

The person I feel sorry for is poor little Joe Bloggs, the junior official in HMRC who originally despatched the computer disks to the National Audit Office.

We can assume that he would have been in the finance section of the department, as the function of dealing with the NAO is jealously guarded by finance sections throughout the government; administrative branches are not permitted to send off material to NAO without finance section approval. Mr Bloggs would normally have dealt with maintaining the databases and spreadsheets supporting the financial processes of estimating, monitoring and accounting for child benefit expenditure. His limited exposure to the people end of the business would have meant that his awareness of the procedures for dealing with personal data might not have been all that it should be - indeed chances are that he has only been with the department for about six months and has yet to attend all the required training courses.

So came the fateful day when his boss told him to send a copy of the entire database to the NAO - and by close of play that afternoon please. Mr B did what he had always done when NAO wanted financial projections or draft accounts; he downloaded the material onto disks, dumped them in a padded envelope, addressed it and threw it in the out tray. Of course he should have known that, unlike his usual material, the child benefits database incorporated personal data which demanded greater security. But, well, he had neither the time nor the inclination to think about it.

Ironically, the NAO did not actually need the entire database - who has time to look through millions of records? All they needed was a sample (a very small sample). Typically of NAO, they would not trust the HMRC to select that sample; they had to do it themselves. They could have sent a couple of auditors up from London to Tyne and Wear to carry out this task. But that´s a tedious (and expensive) journey. Far easier to tell HMRC to send them the whole lot by post.

Meanwhile, as half a million civil servants mutter under their breath "There but for the grace of God ...", poor Joe Bloggs has been incarcerated in the dungeons under the Treasury where he will shortly suffer ritual hanging drawing and quartering. He will be forever known as the man who lost the personal records of half the nation´s population.

Shit happens. It shouldn´t but it does.

20 November 2007

The youth of today

Refreshing to see that Prince William is prepared to discard stuffy tradition by wearing a checked shirt to his grandparents´diamond wedding celebrations (see here). Wouldn´t have been done a few years ago, of course, and I don´t know what the Duke thought about it.

Only the most curmudgeonly of republicans would insist on wondering what is the point of a royal family which casts aside conservative social values. It´s only a checked shirt after all.

13 November 2007

Quote of the day

The beleaguered Mr MacAskill (here):
"You don't collect police officers like toy soldiers, you don't have a bragging contest about the precise number you have if they are located behind desks or doing needless jobs."

Er, unless of course you happen to be writing an election manifesto ...

12 November 2007

Gaeth a wyrd swa hio scel

On Beowulf.

Oh dear, look at this:
Director Robert Zemeckis not only deploys 21st century movie technology at its finest to turn the heroic poem into a vibrant, nerve-tingling piece of pop culture...

It gets worse:
The gruesome violence and male and female near nudity -- about as bold as a PG-13 rating will allow -- mixed together with ribald humor make "Beowulf" a waggish bit of postmodern fun.

'A waggish bit of postmodern fun'? One of the greatest works of English literature?

09 November 2007

Councils in clover

Question: How do you persuade local authorities not to put up council tax?

Answer: It's easy - you stuff their pockets with gold.

But increasing the local authority share of the Scottish public expenditure cake from 33% to nearly 37% carries a cost, the details of which we will no doubt learn when Mr Swinney makes his budget statement next Wednesday. For that £400 million will make a big hole in the available resources. You can see why there are fears for the extension of the M74.

08 November 2007

The economics of defence

The BBC reports:
Britain's Armed Forces are over-stretched and under-funded, a group of former senior military leaders and politicians has warned.
They have formed the UK National Defence Association, led by three ex-chiefs of the defence staff.
UKNDA president Winston Churchill said the amount the UK spends on defence "just doesn't add up" and should be about 3% of gross domestic product. The defence budget has been set at £34bn for next year - about 2% of GDP.

Perhaps if the Ministry of Defence did not spend £ billions on trident submarines or dirty great aircraft carriers they might have sufficient resources to equip the troops properly. Then there are all these generals and admirals - are they all necessary?

07 November 2007

Money makes the world go around

This may be welcome news for those jetting off to do their Christmas shopping in New York. The Guardian reports:
The pound climbed about $2.10 for the first time since 1981 this morning, boosted by speculation that China was preparing to shift its foreign reserves out of dollars.
By 9.30am, one pound was worth $2.1027. The dollar, which has been weakening for several weeks, also hit a new all-time low against the euro of $1.4703.

All very good but, if the international currency system is headed for the rocks, should someone not be panicking? No sign of it on the stock exchanges, where apart from the banks (who have their own little - or perhaps not so little - problems) everything is apparently rosy.

I wish I thought that the financial geniuses in charge of our economies knew what they were doing. Increasingly, I suspect that they are as clueless as the rest of us.

06 November 2007

I've been away ...

Apologies for the unintended absence. Blame it on a computer breakdown. I'm now re-equipped and expect to be back as usual tomorrow.