This mug cost £224,000,000

Well the mug itself didn’t but this is the only visible sign left in this building of a SIMPLY HUGE national computer system built at the cheap cheap rate of a quarter of a billion pounds.

It was a database of every single child in the UK, and contained details of which services (Doctors, police, social services etc) had been working with a child. After the high profile Victoria Climbie murder in 2000, it was found that doctors, police and social workers all had been working on her case, but the actual poor child herself fell through the gaps between the services. It prompted a huge review into how public services worked with children, and as part of the Every Child Matters policy framework, came this database.

It caused a massive stink at the time over individual rights to privacy as EVERY child would be on the database, the papers were full of talk about it. Frankly if you didn’t have an opinion on ContactPoint you were nobody.
In 2010 the new coalition government scrapped it.

There was a huge bureaucratic hullabaloo that accompanied this computer system in the public sector and now nobody can remember it, it’s almost as if it never happened.
But 7 years ago this would have been all that some people talked about, filled their days with. Went on courses about, wrote status updates about, created bespoke posts for people to be employed solely because of this database.

And now the only sign it existed in this building, a Local Authority that would have been one of the main users of it, is this dusty mug I found sitting at the back of the cupboard.

I checked the website address on the mug. Dead.

The hullabaloo back then is no predictor of how real or lasting a corporate or governmental effort is likely to be. In fact, I say the greater the hullabaloo, the less likely it is to last.

Hullabaloo is a sign that someone really wants you to know that something is important and big and you’d better pay attention. Whereas in reality, it isn’t important, it doesn’t matter and everybody can tell. There’s nothing much the people giving away the corporate tat can do to change this, and there’s nothing at all the people who get the tat can do either.

So I made myself a nice cup of tea and drank it out of my quarter of a billion pounds mug.

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This entry was posted in all wrong, public sector, systems thinking and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to This mug cost £224,000,000

  1. Simon Milner says:

    We have one of those in our (local authority) office too. Nobody lays claim to it – only used for visitors. The price tag and bureaucratic complexity around ContactPoint were both vast. However take a look at the “winners” of the Local Government Digital Transformation Fund bids announced back in April at https://www.publictechnology.net/articles/news/local-government-association-names-digital-transformation-funding-winners . Seven of the 20 winners were related to variations of sharing data to “join up” services for children and troubled families. ContactPoint may not have been the answer but plenty of people are still asking questions about how to do this. Now by the time that 7 pilots have been independently developed, some of them scaled up, others abandoned, one or two floated off into “transferable solutions”, I wonder how much money will have been spent. And that doesn’t include the authorities (like mine) who have developed local solutions without bidding to national funding competitions. Are local needs really so different that we have to reinvent the wheel in authorities across the country?

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  2. Systems thinking is about interconnectivity. But the way to resolve a complex like this issue is to move responsibility to the edge and train accordingly. Things will always go wrong in live systems and there is no foolproof system but computers solve little. Even if it were known that there were many involved with a child someone has to make the call…

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