back to article No more staff budget for UK civil service, but worry not – here's an incubator for AI

Deputy UK Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said the country's civil service would improve public services by, among other things, setting up an "Incubator for AI." Dowden chose an upskilling event in which hundreds of civil servants were to be trained in programming, AI, and data science to make the announcement. Approximately £5 …

  1. alain williams Silver badge

    Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

    Worries of a dystopian society apart it seems to me that in the not very distant future an AI could not be worse than the current shower in power.

    Eg: read the comments from the Covid inquiry "Mr Johnson was "clearly bamboozled" by some of the science." It is worrying quite how unsuited many politicians are in today's scientific age.

    Yes: I would not want an AI in No 10, but please can we have some with some real understanding of the world. (I am not going to even start on characteristics such as honesty and working for the common good rather than themselves.)

    1. Jedit Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

      They could call it TwatGPT.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

      Ah, you are still following the media circus that's the Covid Inquiry, and reading the BBC. I see your problem.

      Surely it's the job of Valance to communicate to the PM and explain The Science if the PM is "clearly bamboozled"?

      Whilst it may seem "obvious" that the Eat Out to Help Out scheme would cause an increase in transmission, if you look at the graphs for around that time it's really not very easy to pick out the time of the scheme.

      https://trusttheevidence.substack.com/p/the-hallett-inquiry-update

      And while Valance is now claiming, with hindsight, that we should have locked down sooner, he was on TV two weeks before saying that we should pursue a herd immunity strategy. However, somehow the inquiry hasn't pressed him on that. The whole thing is a massive waste of time and money, and it's clearly a whitewash. It's only going to state that Boris was a buffoon (we all knew that anyway) and we should have locked down sooner (to what end?)

      Follow certain substack accounts, and it'll balance out some of the BS you get from the BBC.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

        The whole thing is a massive waste of time and money, and it's clearly a whitewash.

        May I refer you to a quote from a great political documentary?

        “No Minister, I beg you,” replies Sir Humphrey. “A basic rule of government is never look into anything you don’t have to, and never set up an inquiry unless you know in advance what its findings will be.

        The findings will be that the civil service is 100000% the bestest system in the world, let down by somebody who has departed the scene and can't mount a political defence. And lessons have been learned etc etc etc.

      2. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Silver badge

        Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

        "And while Valance is now claiming, with hindsight, that we should have locked down sooner, he was on TV two weeks before saying that we should pursue a herd immunity strategy. However, somehow the inquiry hasn't pressed him on that"

        Actually that was discussed at the inquiry, yesterday I think. Chris Whitty said that government wasn't pursuing a herd immunity strategy at the time and that he was trying to persuade ministers to not discuss it on open, as it would give a misleading picture. But because the debate about it (herd immunity) was happening in public, it looked like it was a government policy. Whitty confessed this was a mistake saying "We didn't help the public by having a debate that I think quite rightly upset and confused a lot of people"

        1. Tron Silver badge

          Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

          Herd immunity was inevitable in the end. It always is with anything like Covid. Suppress it and it just takes longer, plus the rest of the collateral damage that played out due to lock downs. We still don't have honest stats on deaths as every country recorded them differently. The UK recorded you as a Covid death if you tested positive before being run over by a truck. I wouldn't call that 'clinical'. Nobody will be raising that issue in the inquiry.

          If they had locked down sooner, I'd have been stuck in Japan for 2 years (yay!) rather than having to sit at home watching the UK fail in slow motion. Japan had no lock downs (they just shut the izakayas a few hours earlier) and recorded a reduction in mortality over seasonal norms in the first year of the pandemic. Yes, a reduction. [See: https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/51/1/75/6413683]

          The purpose of the inquiry is likely to be a mechanism that closes the borders at the drop of a hat, when someone, somewhere gets something nasty in the future, as soon as scientists ask for it. It's easier than shutting down the airports every couple of months when someone at NATS has a tummy ache and they are 'short staffed'.

          1. Tim99 Silver badge

            Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

            Where I live we are going through another rise in cases, and masks are now mandated again in high risk areas like hospital intensive car and aged care. Different circumstances and different Governments, but the UK Covid death rates are 10 times higher than here at ~460/million here compared to ~4578/million in the UK (government figures).

            We had a hard lock down immediately, that also prevented travellers arriving unless they went into isolation; followed by two more. After the lockdown there were mandates on number of people/m^2 in restaurants etc.; but after a short while, masks were not required in the wider community. There was plenty of criticism reported in the (mainly right wing) press, but the (centre-left) Premier's personal approval rating hit ~91%. The election that followed almost wiped out the "conservative" opposition giving them only ~10% of Parliamentary seats. Covid rates remained low until we opened up to external travellers, but by that time ~95% of the population was inoculated.

            1. LybsterRoy Silver badge

              Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

              Sorry I can't identify the country

              1. Tim99 Silver badge

                Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

                It’s the State of Western Australia. Australia as a whole had 594/million deaths - The UK is about 7.7 times higher. Obviously it is not directly equivalent, but if everything else was equal to Australian conditions, that implies that ~270,000 people out of 310,000 in the UK would not have died of Covid…

                1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

                  Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

                  However, there are important differences between the UK and WA.

                  To start with, population density is lower (by orders of magnitude). While large towns and cities will have similar pop. densities to UK towns/cities, I would hazard a guess that connection graphs showing who's met who will be significantly sparser in WA.

                  Then there's climate. AIUI WA is somewhat warmer and drier than the UK, and while we were lucky in that we had a decent (for us) summer when we found ourselves queuing outside everywhere, spending lots of time outside is good for lowering transmission rates.

                  So while there may be effects from the way things were handled, you can't just compare apples and oranges to come up with the suggestions regarding cause & effect like you have done.

                  1. Tim99 Silver badge

                    Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

                    True, but much of Covid happened here in the Autumn/Winter. There is a higher proportion of indoor shopping centres in WA where many of us may have caught it. As you know, most of us live in the greater Perth and Peel areas where much of the lockdown happened. The population density for the State is indeed low, but interestingly its localized population density can be quite high: The area where I live has just over half the population density of Greater Manchester.

                    As an ex UK civil servant, I'm not at all surprised at some of the revelations of the current Covid enquiry...

          2. John H Woods Silver badge

            Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

            Herd immunity is inevitable in the end as long as there's vaccination.

            We didn't know what 'anything like Covid' actually was.

            Being run over by a truck is rare. UK mortality rate is low. Anyone who tested positive and then died shortly afterwards was much more likely to have died of Covid than anything else. Of course this counted non-Covid deaths: but an insignificant number and possibly less than actual Covid deaths that were missed.

            I couldn't be arsed reading the rest of your conspiracy fantasy drivel.

          3. Bbuckley

            Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

            Future school history books will have the funniest tagline of the 21st century - "flatten the curve". Oh how the children will laugh.

        2. LybsterRoy Silver badge

          Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

          Reading that all I have to say is "you are Sir Humphrey" and "how much can I claim, is it still only £5 after all the inflation?"

      3. Binraider Silver badge

        Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

        My god, the rabbit hole has grabbed onto you something chronic hasn't it?

        Psychological help is available when you realise you need it.

      4. LybsterRoy Silver badge

        Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

        -- The whole thing is a massive waste of time and money, and it's clearly a whitewash. --

        Whilst I don't know the exact colour I have to agree with the final clause BUT its not a waste of money - think of all those poor impoverished legal professionals making a bundle from it.

    3. Tron Silver badge

      Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

      It would be an improvement. Having an artificial intelligence in the cabinet would be better than having no intelligence at all.

    4. Stork Silver badge

      Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

      Any sort of intelligence, artificial or otherwise, would be a welcome change.

      1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Ooh ... so could we have an AI in the cabinet ?

        Should we put Military Intelligence in charge?

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          Re: Should we put Military Intelligence in charge? @Strahd Ivarius .... Part 1 of 2

          Well, that could be AWEsome if Army Warfighting Experiments are yielding operands and components and exponents effective with relatively anonymous and practically autonomous command and remote virtual untouchable control in leading fields of future engagement for subsequent deployment and concurrent active employment.

          After all, it is not as if they [UKGBNI MoD] haven’t been briefed to be made more fully aware of such matters that matter now more than ever before, and since 30th September 2019 one would surely have expected there to be more than just no fcuking progress to report and demonstrate to the masses.

          Here is something which you might not know but which has been shared and made freely available for export and further future development from at least that date over four years ago.

          This [Army Warfighting Experiment]submission claims to be able to address and aid, to a greater or lesser degree, all of the five questions the Army has asked …… via the Presentation of the Results and Vital Actions taken for Future Realisation in/with/of Global Events BroadBandCasting Advanced IntelAIgent Memes with Almighty Means in All Main Streaming Live Media Systems and Alternative Underground Movements ….. and here on a Stealthy Exercise and Who Dares Win Wins Operation and looking forward to engagement and enjoyment in these new fangled and entangling reports of NEUKlearer HyperRadioProACTive IT with/from Alternate Sources to create Totally Different, and more Equitable and Mutually Beneficial Outcomes.

          With the simple expedient of rather than seeking to portray the ways and means to a heavenly destination/perfectly new staring point, with everything newly discovered on the way, novel and exciting, why not try committing and submitting to Virtual Experimentation in a Not So Top Secret Anymore Program with Advanced IntelAIgent Commands and Future Control[s] in VAIOSystems of Universal Administration.

          Further Proprietary Intellectual Property Access Rights are required to acquire and deliver so very much more and all else necessary too ……. for such a Program and Project as the above is quite easily Almightily Weaponised for/with wanton and wilful abuse and disastrous misuse ….. although one is always to be well enough warned and advised that any and all such abuse and misuse always results in punitive, catastrophically counterproductive sanction with miscreants relentlessly and ruthlessly pursued for overwhelming prosecution and deserved persecution.

          N.B. … This Program is only suitable for Prime Leading Principals/Organisations exercising Geopolitically Sensitive Applications.

          Both test experimental and operational theatre environments are relatively anonymously virtually created and populated to field elements/land forces by virtue of their presentation in any number of diverse, suitably cloaked news/media productions with the Technology Readiness Level for all such as is proposed and revealed here in this submission and/or discovered in any further deeper program investigation of Past Principal Activity being of no valid negative concern.

          All necessary systems are Go with a decades worth of tweaking, reinforcing and live field betatesting of readily available assets providing such a confident assurance.

          For Mass Control of the Future Narrative, Command the Virtual Reality Remotely with Superior ACT*ivated Product.

          * Advanced Cyber Threat/Treat

          It is not the emergence and exposure of sensitive corrupted state held secrets which easily crash and burn a future's monumental folly, although they certainly also can, it is the innate ability and virgin facility of spontaneous and unpredictable sharing of novel information about newly uncovered advanced intelligence which can swarm through and decimate established main stream media and fiat currency operations, so very easily delivered and received by billions of electronic devices able to see and hear particular and peculiar tales ..... interesting uncomfortably engaging narratives proving themselves too popular and accurate to summarily try to dismiss and declare as untrue and subversive, for that shoe will be on one's own foot.

          Such is a current ACTive IT and AI Battlefield and Virtual Graveyard for the many Arrogant and Ignorant who never imagined such things as being possible as they ploughed their own selfish greedy furrow in worlds before Sublime InterNetworking Networks for Hearts and Minds Capture.

          Does the UKGBNI MOD see itself engaged in such an experiment/experience as an independent leading role player or more simply just as support staff following orders from/for other state and non-state actors?

          And would the former be tantamount to a Stealthy SMARTR AI Military coup, which is what it can easily be spun as by a blind-sided opposition or right dodgy competition?

          Would that be of an EMPowering Interest to Astute Militarised Organs of Defence into providing NEUKlearer HyperRadioProACTive IT Protection to Command and Control of the Virtualised Machine with Commanding Control of Computers and Communications in Epic New COSMIC Realms ….. Advanced IntelAIgent Streams?

          1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

            Re: Should we put Military Intelligence in charge? .... Part 2 of 2

            Re: Novel Total Information Awareness

            Technical Description ....

            The Virtually Advanced IntelAIgent Operating System ......... with the Internet and ITs Global Information Grids Networking as the VAIOSystem Software Store Source, Providing Novel Innovative Virgin Source Code as Special Lead Content in Website Domains/Freely Accessible CyberSpace Environments .... and ITs HyperRadioProActive Drivers being IT and Media as the HardWired Hardware Deliverers of Future World Views. ..... which is surely a Kin to Panoramas and Vistas and Bigger Picture Shows in the Great Advanced IntelAIgents Game ..... only Better and in Betas, Testing and Tempting Systems to FailSafe in their Configuration and Design.

            For Controls in Virtual Machinery which also are able to be enabled to deliver Remote Access Trojan Control of Virtual Machinery too.

            Now that is an Interesting Domain for BetaTesting and Pitting Dominion and Ignominy against each Other, for the Straight and Narrow, Right down the Middle of Every Road Approach to Program and Project Control which would Naturally, Virtually deliver QuITe Absolute Power ....... with ITs Ability and Faculty to Absolutely Corrupt should one so choose to Stumble and Fall into ITs Carefully Laid Honey Traps of Zealous Selfish Indulgent Abuse ....... Intelligently Designed to Rob and XXXXtraordinarily Render One with neither Control nor Power ...... in a FailSafe Executive Administration System with SCADA Dependencies.

            Operational Description ......

            And Hosted in Cloud and Cloud Strata for ITs Global Cover, Reach, Concealment and Rains/Reins/Reigns.

            Welcome to CyberIntelAIgent NEUKlearer HyperRadioProACTive ProgramMING in Networks InterNetworking JOINT Applications ......... for the SMARTR Enabling of Special IntelAIgents Services and AI Beta Universal Management of Global Perception with IT in Virtually Real Control with AI and Virtualised Realities.

            1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

              Progress Abhors AI Vacuums and is Never Ever without Worthy Home Bases

              However, as far as the UKGBNI is concerned, any or all of that above, with all present evidence confirming the fact, be probably disastrously dependent upon serving military leaderships either unwilling or unable to exercise such as would be necessary to save a way of life suffering deprivations and mounting difficulties in a dire emergency situation hosted by a failed peacetime Cabinet government office collective, with that which they would have in their arsenals and programs and projects in secret development.

              And every man and his dog knows what happens then to secrets and security whenever they are not developed and actively tested for failsafe proof of concept and maximum efficiency yield in the myriad fields designated for their wielding ....... they leak and escape and are imported/exported to real time friendly type competitors or would be future hostile type opponents more adept at adapting to and taking full advantage of novel revolutionary leadership opportunities.

              What think thee? ’Tis surely perfectly natural no matter where you may be.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't conflate the two things

    On the one hand, putting AI into civil servants hands probably isn't going to improve their efficiency very much, so that's probably a waste of money.

    On the other hand, "No more staff budget" as in the title is a bit misleading. I've worked with a lot of civil servants, and many of them spend a lot of time just shuffling papers around or attend meetings all day just explaining why they can't deliver something. They spend weeks putting together a document, and then complain that the requirements are a bit vague. When you suggest that they call up the person who put the requirements together and actually ask them for clarification, you just get a blank stare.

    I don't think having more of them on the payroll is going to help. I guess we'll find out next year as Labour are supposed to favour Big Government. I'm from the Ron Swanson school of government (keep it very small). And if you haven't seen Parks and Recreation, you are missing something great.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't conflate the two things

      "Labour are supposed to favour Big Government"

      They've committed to "financial prudence until the economy returns to growth", which is as good as saying they will stick to the broad spending plans set out by the current shower of piddle. On most notable policy areas, including energy, environment, transport, business there's no difference of any materiality between the two parties, and not much on justice, immigration and health. For any changed or new plans, where will they find the money if they aren't going to change spending plans? Taxing the rich has been tried before and results in lower receipts. For all the blustering, we have a uniparty government whoever gets in, but both parties specialise in pretending there's a big difference.

      In any event, let's look at the cost of the civil service, that's around £11bn a year. That's to administrate total spending of £1.19 trillion, so say 1%. The nearest private sector metric would be organisational SG&A costs, and the leading analysts on that are the Hackett Group, who reckon that for European companies the median value is about 12% of turnover, and first quartile is 5-6%. Which would mean that UK government administration is (in pure cost terms) somewhere around second quartile performance. That's pretty good considering the breadth and complexity of government operations. Operationally I have no data, but I'd guess from my thirty years working in a range of large companies that UK government effectiveness is around the private sector median - I've seen private sector screwups brushed under the carpet that are every bit as bad as the very public government screwups.

      1. tyrfing

        Re: Don't conflate the two things

        "I've seen private sector screwups brushed under the carpet that are every bit as bad as the very public government screwups."

        So? In the usual way, a private company that messes up too often goes to the wall.

        A government mess on the other hand - we all pay for it. Always.

        So where do you want higher performance?

        Of course, many large private companies have some way of getting the government to pay for their messes (cost-plus contracts, "change of scope", lobbying for subsidies...).

        In those cases I would say for those responsible:

        "Up against that wall please. Cigarette? Blindfold?"

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Don't conflate the two things

          "So? In the usual way, a private company that messes up too often goes to the wall."

          A remarkably simplistic view of how things work, except in SMEs.

          The intensity of screwups in the private sector are generally not existential, and you generally are therefore on the hook for private sector screwups. If it's a banking sector screwup, then of course all profits are private, the really big losses are for the taxpayer. The £6bn cost of the collapse of most energy suppliers due to risky business models resulted in losses shared between all bill payers, and tax payers (not a dissimilar group of course). Your average screwed up big project just gets added to the customer's bill, or stuffed to shareholders (and in that case, you're STILL on the hook because it's your insurers, banks, and pension funds who take the hit).

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Don't conflate the two things

      >” On the other hand, "No more staff budget" as in the title is a bit misleading”

      Definitely misleading, as the IT will have to increase to fund the AI and it’s supporting staff.

      I remember back in the mid 1990s implementing a housing benefit system based on an”AI” (ie. A rules-based system), the full project was canned because the rules handed down from central government changed faster than the programmers could convert them into a (validated) rule set, plus some of the directives didn’t readily translate into machine implementable rules, so cases were constantly being handed off to humans and thus the staff savings were not achievable. However, the system did one thing, it prevented paper being “lost” or “forgotten in a cabinet”, so when the (AI) project was cancelled, they have the data to show that the staff were both fully utilised and more productive than previously, so more needed to be recruited.

      1. Fr. Ted Crilly Silver badge

        Re: Don't conflate the two things

        Ah yes SIr Humphey, Minister and the hospital without patients and understaffed with administrators...

  3. Howard Sway Silver badge

    an upskilling event in which civil servants were to be trained in programming, AI, and data science

    Wow, all those years I spent learning stuff, when I could have just gone along to an "upskilling event" instead!

  4. xyz123 Silver badge

    This is unlikely to be any time soon. HMRC have refused to implement 64-bit Microsoft Office until 'at least' the end of 2024 (they're currently running a weird mix of 32 bit windows on some machines and 32bit office with 64bit unpatchd windows 10 on others), as they stated "64 bit software is too new to trust".

    So AI in government will be like 2250 at the soonest.

    1. Bebu Silver badge
      Windows

      "So AI in government will be like 2250 at the soonest."

      Optimist.

      I suspect just in time for the 64 bit equivalent of the y2k fizzer. (At ~300Gyr :)

      Instructing civil servants in programming (or generally any of the polloi) is pretty futile. Those that have chosen programming as a vocation and trained as "developers" are usually, on the whole, pretty piss poor.

      I cannot imagine sir Humpty or Bernard ingesting the intricasies of C++ templating with gusto even with the benefit of a classical education.

    2. LybsterRoy Silver badge

      I'm feeling a little bit slow why would they need to implement 64-bit Microsoft Office - does it mean they type faster or something?

      1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
        Trollface

        it can supposedly handle bigger Excel worksheets...

  5. abend0c4

    What is efficiency?

    Government on the cheap is not necessarily efficiency.

    The Environment Agency, for example, has lost over half of its environmental protection budget over the last decade. One consequence is the constant discharge of sewage into rivers and seas. That's not efficiency, it's capitulation. It doesn't even have to be a cost to the public purse - it could be met by a charge on water companies.

    HMRC has been saving money - for example by shutting down its enquiry lines between 12th June and 3rd September. That's not efficiency, it's an abdication of public service. Efficiency would come from simplifying the tax system so it generated fewer enquiries.

    The problem is that politicians will the ends but are not prepared to will the means. There's a cost to good public administration and bad public administration simply wastes money by failing to achieve its objectives. No doubt you could save money by treating people essentially as data points and using AI to decide whether they fraudulently claimed childcare benefit, or decide whether they should go to jail or they can go to college - but do we want to be subservient to machines simply to save a few quid?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What is efficiency?

      "Government on the cheap is not necessarily efficient."

      Correction:

      Government at *any* cost is not efficient. Full Stop.

      Efficiency limits the 'opportunities' for 3rd parties to make a profit, trying to 'help' government to be 'more' 'efficient' !!! :)

      ('help', 'more' and 'efficient' are subject to a wide gamut of meanings, often at the same time by multiple parties. !!!

      :)

  6. FirstTangoInParis Bronze badge

    Humans vs machines

    I don’t really mind how Gov services the population, but the evidence is so far that humans are way better at coping with anything other than a very simple question. Begs the question of perhaps Gov should just recruit and train and pay their staff properly and forget all these AI vanity projects. Oh but some other countries might get to AI supremacy first! I don’t care, just do what works for our population and do it well.

    While I’m here, kudos to the UK Gov pensions team who clearly have their ducks in a row. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    TL:DR

    We don't know what we're talking about but it won't stop us talking.

  8. s. pam Silver badge
    Facepalm

    will the AI tell the gov't??

    That it Ain't Intelligent to give money to Crapita, or our private medical data to Palantir?

    Of course they'll never listen to any intelligent discussion!

  9. An_Old_Dog Silver badge
    Joke

    Training in "Data Science"

    Here's the fast and cheap version: "Everybody, repeat after me: Spreadsheets are not a database! When you have a database of data*, use a database program for it."

    * I know, I know. But we're tuning this for bureaucrats.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Training in "Data Science"

      Down voted for being off topic, :)

      please rephrase with the solution being “…use an AI for it”.

    2. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Training in "Data Science"

      but I still can use the spreadsheet as the front end for the database, can I?

  10. codejunky Silver badge

    Ha

    "The announcement came alongside a requirement to draw up plans to reduce the state's size"

    I will believe it when I see it. The state is ever growing, the idea of 'austerity' was spending like slightly less of a drunken sailor, cutting quangos involved more and tax and stupid wastes of money continue to rise.

    1. Lurko

      Re: Ha

      The state shrank as a % of GDP consistently between 2010 and 2019, although the consequences of that were rising hospital waiting lists, rising school class sizes, fewer police, a shrunken military, more pot holes, more congestion, and shorter prison terms, shrunken social care, plus rising student tuition charges (ie personal debt), amongst other effects. Nothing right or wrong about any of that, but if you want a smaller state then you want less public services.

      There is a very British myth that "if we fixed public sector inefficiency, we could have public services like Denmark, and taxes like Chad (10% of GDP, for those not paying attention) unfortunately that is not the case. All very well railing on about waste and quangos, but there's only two main challenges - what level of public services we want, and then setting a tax level to pay for it. For many years the UK public spending has been a touch above the OECD average but well below comparator north western EU countries, and our tax take has been moderately below the OECD average, creating a deficit that's amongst the highest in the OECD, and net debt that's been inordinately high.

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Ha

        @Lurko

        "The state shrank as a % of GDP consistently between 2010 and 2019"

        I assume you mean the public sector being 46% of GDP (2010) down to 39.5% (2019)? Putting that into context the gov can only spend what it takes from the private people/business and borrowing against the private people/business. So the current utopia come about from the current 45% of the economy and 2010 was a high point of public spending after labour spent everything and left huge bills and they ramped up to about 40% of the economy!

        Also remember labours splurge was 'investment' which means a return on investment. So if the increased spending must remain so to keep the level of service it is NOT an investment, and is at best a liability. And that 'investment' came at the expense of more debt, selling gold, PFI contracts, etc.

        "Nothing right or wrong about any of that, but if you want a smaller state then you want less public services."

        Yes. We already have more government than we are willing to pay for and so borrowing is insane. If we maintain or grow our monster it will continue borrowing and the interest payments of course eat into spending on services we want. Our larger state hasnt really improved our situation either as it steals more to redistribute to subsidies that make us poorer. In fact it has been government policy making our lives more expensive that is part of the inflation issue and energy crisis.

        And with all this money we have more diversity officers but failure to follow the existing disaster plan for covid. The horrid expense of conflicting ideas that people be alone at a funeral while they party, that we must lock down and seriously harm the economy but subsidise eating out. It is general governmental incapability that spends so much and yet makes a bad situation. Some of it because they are not very good, some of it because central management is severely limited by bad information well out of date.

        "For many years the UK public spending has been a touch above the OECD average but well below comparator north western EU countries, and our tax take has been moderately below the OECD average, creating a deficit that's amongst the highest in the OECD, and net debt that's been inordinately high."

        That is a fair assessment of the problem. The dream that someone else will/should pay and a demand for more spending. The small pockets of activists who in a good few cases should be arrested are instead listened to. Instead of providing for the country the government spends our money appeasing strange cults. The government making expensive solutions to very simple problems.

        1. abend0c4

          Re: Ha

          The biggest cost pressure to households in the UK results from the consistent failure of governments to ensure sufficient housing is built to meet the need in both the sale and rental markets.

          The biggest cost pressure to the government finances is the spiralling cost of debt. This wasn't really a problem until the financial crisis of 2007-2008 when it suddenly rocketed from 35% of GDP to around 50% of GDP in 2008/9, then 70% in 2010/11, 80% in 2018/19 (before Covid) and roughly 100% in 2022/3. Clearly "events" have had a significant effect (and Gordon Brown was perhaps too keen to bail out the banks), but a big contributor was George Osborne's obsession with cutting government expenditure and reducing taxes - which simply resulted in government debt becoming an ever greater proportion of GDP as tax receipts fell and growth failed to materialise (hint: reducing taxation and government expenditure does not promote private sector growth particularly in an economy like the UK which is over-reliant on retail and services). Another contributor was RIshi Sunak's perhaps unnecessary splurge of Covid money which seems, politely, to have been badly targeted - followed by Truss's "moron risk premium".

          There's no intrinsic reason why we can't afford high-quality public services if we fix these soon (though it may become too late) - and in areas such as health, social care and education they will be always be more economical than private alternatives because they operate at scale. However, we have to stop being bamboozled by political gimmicks in the same way that politicians are apparently bamboozled by science. And, it would seem, economics.

          1. codejunky Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: Ha

            @abend0c4

            "The biggest cost pressure to households in the UK results from the consistent failure of governments to ensure sufficient housing is built to meet the need in both the sale and rental markets."

            I would agree that is a problem but it would take a lot of guts to make it easier and cut regulations on building and renting. Instead the pressure is the other way. Instead they come up with schemes to make it more expensive and difficult to build/rent.

            "but a big contributor was George Osborne's obsession with cutting government expenditure and reducing taxes"

            Except this was the 'austerity' which wasnt. Instead of cutting spending it was a reduction in the massive spending plans already made. He was still spending more than 2008. Spending is at an insane high which is why people start counting from 2010 when the UK had a huge blow out knocked out only by covid spending. How is that sustainable?

            "(hint: reducing taxation and government expenditure does not promote private sector growth particularly in an economy like the UK which is over-reliant on retail and services)"

            Do not see any evidence of that at all. The only correlation we seem to agree on is huge spending based on more debt. Private sector growth seems very much strangled by a growing and interfering state.

            "There's no intrinsic reason why we can't afford high-quality public services if we fix these soon"

            Fix what how? There is a lot of mismanagement to fix and it would mean facing down the cults making our lives more expensive and more difficult. The government has made public and private cost a hell of a lot more due to our energy situation which feeds into everything. To solve that means facing down the green madness.

            "areas such as health, social care and education they will be always be more economical than private alternatives because they operate at scale"

            Questionable. As per usual if our health model was so great others would copy it. Allowing academy's was the UK emulation of the nordic education model people like to praise. I was impressed by the healthcare I got in Europe. I paid insurance and the doctors actually wanted to see patients, spend time to understand the problem and then actually resolve the issue. And quickly.

            "However, we have to stop being bamboozled by political gimmicks in the same way that politicians are apparently bamboozled by science. And, it would seem, economics."

            That is a hard statement to disagree with. Have a pint ->

        2. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Ha

          >” the gov can only spend what it takes from the private people/business and borrowing against the private people/business”

          The government run the printing presses… Remember QE?

          What is perhaps surprising is that the state has (slightly) shrunk, given the massive increase required to take back control post 2016…

          The IFS report that is being referenced in various media articles is quite interesting; to achieve its objectives (lower tax), it would seem the UK should return to the era of 40% corporation tax and a 98% top rate of income tax…

          1. codejunky Silver badge

            Re: Ha

            @Roland6

            "The government run the printing presses… Remember QE?"

            Absolutely. That is taking from the private business/people by diluting the value of the currency they hold.

            "What is perhaps surprising is that the state has (slightly) shrunk, given the massive increase required to take back control post 2016…"

            The state was increasing while we were in the EU and yet it should have been taking work away from our state. Under labour Nick Robinson did a really good documentary about the damage of an over large state. And made me laugh when guessing job titles they had a guy who was (something like) a consultant to the consultant to a department of organising desk layouts.

  11. 0laf
    Terminator

    Money

    There is always money available for shiny shit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Money

      There is always money available for shiny shit or wars (Real or Imagined) !!!

      :)

  12. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "an effective junior pair-programmer"

    Pair programming is not only a misnomer (it should be called pair coding) and as implemented it's a disaster. Real programming involves thoughtful design before the keyboard is touched, and once the keyboard is reached there should be a consistent approach to implementation followed by testing, review and, if necessary, adjustment. "Pair programming" amounts to coming up with something that "works" by trial and error, exacerbated by quite possibly mixing two different views of what's needed. The result is typically muddle.

    1. An_Old_Dog Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: "an effective junior pair-programmer"

      In my first programming class (1975), a classmate and I unknowingly invented "pair programming." We'd go to a back corner of the classroom and use the chalkboard, talking about the problem, developing the methodology and algorithms for solving the assigned problem. Then we'd go back to our seats and write our respective programs. After doing this for a few assignments, I said, "You know, it's really stupid for us to write two programs when we've already worked out how to solve the problem." She said, "Yes, it is." I said, "Let's just write one program." And that's what we did, writing the program out together on paper with pencil, then going to the Teletype (TM), one of us typing it in, and both of us testing it. After it worked, we went to the teacher and handed in a single copy of the program, with both our names on it. He accepted that, and that we weren't "cheating," and that one of us wasn't simply sponging off the other, because both our test scores were top of the class. Because out teacher seated his students in alphabetical order, I was in the front of the middle column, and she was halfway back on the farthest column, which ruled out one of us having copied from the other's tests.

      To my everlasting aggravation, she didn't care one whit about computers or programming. She'd taken the class ("Data Processing I") only because it fulfilled a business track requirement, and she just happened to be great at it.

  13. heyrick Silver badge
    WTF?

    an upskilling event

    Really? An "upskilling event"?

    Kill me now, I'm done with this planet...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: an upskilling event

      "Really? An "upskilling event"?"

      Typical, civil servant / Govt point of view:

      My job is complicated and requires training, skill and some intelligence.

      Your job is simple and I can do it by simply watching you for an hour or so and copying the process .... which is also simple. !!!

      :)

  14. Tron Silver badge

    So they broke Britain with Brexit but will fix it with AI. Mkay.

    How come the UK is run by the least able people in it? Not just people who are a bit sub par, but the sort of people that you wouldn't trust to boil an egg.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So they broke Britain with Brexit but will fix it with AI. Mkay.

      Because our first past the post system creates the concept of a "wasted vote", and this contributes to flip flopping between the two main parties. With a duopoly on power, the parties see no real need to offer competence, and are merely echo chambers for those who hold the money, the votes for leadership, or can manipulate the press and thus the public. Because they only let in like minds, there's no internal challenge to each party's status quo, and you see the same life forms snaffling at the trough - in the Conservative party, it's revolting, wealthy public school boys without any grasp of the real world. With Labour it's Guardian-reading intellectuals, persuading themselves that they represent the downtrodden working class.

  15. IGotOut Silver badge

    Easy Government.

    Current lot.

    Input:

    Daily Mail articles

    Decision:

    Is it near election time?

    No: Raise Taxes

    Yes: Cut taxes.

    Output: Government Policy

    (For labour swap Daily Mail for Daily Mirror)

  16. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Hiring freeze

    Always works well - there's nothing like a blanket dictat from on high to improve efficiency

    1, They will just hire the people as contractors / PPI deals so they end up spending 10X as much money to employ civil servants through a consultancy

    2, They reclassify a bunch of roles as not civil service by moving them to other quangos and hiring replacements while keeping "civil service" headcount the same

    3, They freeze a bunch of projects cos they can't hire some specialist, while keeping 1000s of existing staff on payroll doing nothing

    4, All of the above

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hiring freeze

      Anon for what should be obvious reasons ...

      Yes, we see it all the time - the pay is ... "not competitive" so it's hard to recruit the best people needed to do the stuff that needs technical skills. It's hard enough just to fill gaps, let alone gets the best people for the jobs. As a result, all sorts of things go wrong with projects - for a recent example, have a search for the report on the failures in the Ajax project, and especially the lack of skills/knowledge on the project team that could have alerted management about the risk from vibration a lot earlier (OK, there was also a lot of "not passing bad news upwards", but there appears to have also been a gap in key skills/knowledge). I know of people effectively doing two jobs, I hear of people doing more - and that's not sustainable for long before people burn out.

      So once again we get policy changes that are "one size fits all" with no regard to how different departments work or how things vary across the country, apparently decided on a whim, and communicated by us reading about it in the papers before if comes down through official channels. It's demoralising, and each time it happens, another slice of the workforce takes a look to see if they can afford to retire yet. And the private sector looks just that bit greener than it already did. And so people leave - often the most experienced who understand what the job is and how best to do it.

      At some point, the house of cards being held up by people at the bottom burning themselves out trying to do two (or more) jobs because they take pride in getting things done is going to collapse. Unfortunately, the timescales are long enough that a) many of the guilty people have moved on, and b) it's like house training a puppy - it's no good rubbing it's nose in it a week after it's left you a brown pile in the carpet as it just doesn't see a connection between it's actions in the "distant past" and the results it's seeing now.

      Unfortunately I'm not in a position to jack it in and retire early. So I can look forward to yet more years of "austerity" (=below inflation pay rises, and more workload), or "pay pauses" (=below inflation pay rises, and more workload), or whatever terms some politician makes up to hide the real effect.

      And ponder this, in my corner of the government machine, the bottom grades had ended up on the same spot rate = the national living wage. So there were managers earning no more than those they were managing - the extra they got for that responsibility having disappeared through poor (or non-existant) pay rises along with the lower grades getting a boost each time the NLW went up. Our manglement had to introduce a bonus to give those managers a differential from the supposedly lower grades when they realised many were thinking they might as well ditch the responsibility and downgrade on the same pay !

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Hiring freeze .... and straws that break camels’ backs

        And aint all of that the honest gospel truth, AC. Well said, Sir/Madam. Have an upvote in recognition of the pain being felt by lions led by donkeys ..... with that surely being one of the dumbest and most dangerous of situations to be leading and be responsible for when lions have no trouble at all tearing donkeys to pieces and devouring them.

  17. PeterM42
    Facepalm

    Don't forget.....

    ...HS (Human Stupidity)

    1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Don't forget.....

      didn't they upgrade it already to HS 2?

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