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Re: [Fsfe-uk] Cheats!

From: Ian Lynch
Subject: Re: [Fsfe-uk] Cheats!
Date: Sun, 05 Feb 2006 09:35:52 +0000

On Sat, 2006-02-04 at 10:46 +0000, Simon Waters wrote:
> David M wrote:
> > 
> > Heck, if the NHS is really spending that much on software, it almost
> > begs the question as to why they don't set up their own (arms-length, if
> > need be) software development division, costing less overall (possibly
> > providing future sales potential), and soaking up large numbers of
> > underemployed IT professionals in the meantime?
> I suspect lots of reasons, mostly inertia.
> You have to realise that the civil service doesn't think like a business.
> No where is business would you have such obscenities as National
> Insurance, and Income tax, lets have two independent systems for taxing
> peoples incomes, one progressive, one regressive. It is both unfair
> (National Insurance taxes the poor unduely), 

The origin of national insurance is that it is an insurance policy
against being made redundant or being unable to work through ill-health.
It used to be collected separately and you have to pay the stamps up to
date to qualify for a pension. Its all nonsense now of course because NI
and income tax are collected together and many of the benefits are
impossible to separate out. Also NI is effectively a tax on employment
since employers pay a bug chunk for each employee. The reason they
aren't combined is because people would see a true basic rate of income
tax over 30%. Well ists complicated because of personal allowances so
low earners would still overall be less than 20% of their income and
high earners would still be 40%ish. The degree of fairness of the
overall tax system which is really what matters is a politically
arguable point but there is no doubt that getting rid of unnecessary
complexity would be a good thing. 

> inefficient (just look at
> the NI computer system fiasco, let alone separate systems for charging
> it all). Every so often someone proposes abolishing National Insurance,
> and the civil service spins into self defence mode.

There is a political reason too. No politician wants to be associated
with Headlines saying income tax rises to 35% or whatever. 

> Most of its history, staff and capital budgets were seperated upto
> director level, so only a director could ever institute a change that
> involved trading capital for staff posts, or vice-versa. And union
> pressure made it difficult to ever reverse a decision to trade capital
> for staff, since you couldn't easily get rid of the staff. Such pressure
> drive bizarre decisions.

Well the present government seems to have decided to get rid of a big
section of the Civil Service so I don't see that this is really a tablet
of stone.
> The NHS spent a fortune to agencies for supplying nurses and related
> staff on a short term contract basis, before one of the bigger
> healthcare trusts realised they could save a fortune if they set up
> their own agency. Once that happened everyone realised it was a good
> idea. This could happen because the senior manager responsible for both
> hiring costs, and staff costs, was delegated to the hospital management,
> and he had pressure to fix things.

In general making people accountable for budgets locally is a good
thing. There can be trade offs with economies of scale but on balance
usually the local ownership of decision making is an advantage. That's
why I think Grant Maintained schools are better than having LEAs
controlling aspects of schools budgets and systems like E-Learning
Credits that only let schools buy particular products with their money
distort the market. ie £100m a year is spent on ELCs that effectively
subsidises the proprietary software license industry and no money goes
into Open Source development.

> Whilst software is scattered freely from above like confetti, the
> hospital managers have no reason to query the purchasing procedures.

Ask the National Audit office to investigate concentratig on their
published guidelines.

> Doesn't obviously affect their budgets, if they deviate from the stuff
> from above it costs them, ergo their hands are effectively tied. I hear
> comments even from the IT group in the NHS, that such deviations as
> using MacOS by designers is a big cost overhead, as the Mac versions of
> MS software isn't covered, one off purchases of such software are of
> course almost full retail price.

So get a MAC vendor to complain to the OFT that they are being excluded
from the market.

> There is also a huge perceived risk factor, given the huge lack of
> success of most big government IT projects, would you as a career civil
> servant recommend another one, versus paying someone only too happy to
> take the money, and supply you a lightly rebranded version of their
> current off the shelf product which you are already using?
> I think Ian is probably on the mark, the contract should have been
> pushed to open tender, and in answer to who can afford to dispute it -
> I'd suggest IBM, SUN or Novell as likely candidates.

When I pushed this point I got stone-walled to a certain extent - no-one
was going to cause a big stir - but I noticed that the next time, Sun
was involved and did sell the NHS some Star Office licenses. I had
suggested that it is poor tactics to let MS think they are the only
viable solution. Even if you have no intention of using other products,
going out to tender forces them to think about lowering their prices.
Again this is just basic value for money stuff and very difficult to
argue against. So my take is that its worth making the complaints even
if apparently nothing happens immediately. Civil Servants are risk
averse so if they start getting flack that is directed at the procedures
they themselves have put in place to get best value it makes them very

>  Central purchasing
> may have kept Microsoft in there at the moment, but of course it does
> mean that all the eggs are in one basket. Be assured they'll be watching
> that basket carefully.
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Ian Lynch <address@hidden>

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