As PM, what would YOU spend 12bn GBP on?

October 4, 2008 at 4:02 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Here are two ideas from Gordon Brown today on how to spend £12bn:

From The Sunday Times
October 5, 2008

Government will spy on every call and e-mail
David Leppard

Ministers are considering spending up to £12 billion on a database to monitor and store the internet browsing habits, e-mail and telephone records of everyone in Britain.

GCHQ, the government’s eavesdropping centre, has already been given up to £1 billion to finance the first stage of the project.


Brown calls for £12bn at EU mini-summit

Toby Helm in Paris and Richard Wachman, 
Saturday October 04 2008 00:01 BST

Gordon Brown tonight called on EU leaders to release £12bn of emergency aid to ailing small businesses as attempts to agree a pan-European response to the global financial crisis made slow progress.

At a hastily convened mini-summit in Paris, the prime minister insisted that only by working together could governments across the world ‘clean up’ the financial system and restore shattered public confidence.


Yes, I know 12bn GBP pales into insignificance when we have been talking about 700bn USD all week, but the use of the same small sum for these two different purposes struck me as peculiar, rather than amusing.

Why not spend £12bn on cleaning up our carbon emissions, investing in renewables—instead of cleaning up another fine financial mess and investing in e-snooping? (I am not against helping small businesses, but I do think it is worth asking what could be done to improve public confidence in other ways.)

Confidence goes hand-in-hand with trust. Or, to turn it around, lack of trust reduces our confidence in each other and our overall ability to succeed when working together.

As for being watched, Britain already has a very high density of CCTV cameras—I get the feeling closed-circuit television systems bred like rabbits while we were out of the country for many years. People seem to want to rely on others to keep them safe using technology they don’t understand. Is it any wonder degrees of trust between members of British society appear to have fallen significantly in the past decade or two?

Listening in and capturing all our clicks isn’t going to do anything to build trust, and it is TRUST that is lacking nowadays, not information.  As we drown in an ever-expanding pool of data we need to know how to decide which information is worth storing and analysing, then analyse it, and act upon the findings.  Alternatively, we need to know who to trust to perform this role on our behalf.  Certainly it would not be a bright idea to trust the government with any more major IT projects after the series of well-documented fiascos involving massive government-collected data losses in recent years.


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  1. P.S. For another spending comparison, just look at the IEA report ‘IEA: European Union is leading on climate change and energy policies, but needs to increase funding for energy research & development’ and note the figures (full quote below). At today’s exchange rates, EUR 5.1 bn = 4.0 bn GBP = 7.0 bn USD and EUR 9 bn = 7.0 bn GBP = 12.4 bn USD:

    “The level of EU energy R&D spending is currently foreseen to be EUR 5.1 bn between now and 2013, compared to EUR 9 bn for information technology.”

    So, we have an energy crisis, rather than an IT crisis, but a greater sum is spent on IT, then read the paragraph below to see how much of the energy R&D is on nuclear fusion!

    The point is, plenty of money is being spent, but not (in my opinion) in the right areas to get us out of any current or foreseeable predicaments.

    Energy R&D

    To address the energy and environmental challenges the world is facing, investment in energy R&D will have to increase significantly. The level of EU energy R&D spending is currently foreseen to be EUR 5.1 bn between now and 2013, compared to EUR 9 bn for information technology. R&D should furthermore be managed in a strategic manner, to ensure that it is in line with the goals that are pursued. The European Union is doing well in addressing the strategic management, which it has reinforced by developing the Strategic Energy Technology Plan in 2007, a comprehensive plan to accelerate energy technologies for a low-carbon future. But it is facing a serious challenge in the area of fund availability. Nevertheless, the current Framework Programme allocates EUR 1.95 bn, or almost 40% of the energy funding, to nuclear fusion, a technology that is only expected to contribute past 2050. It will be important for the achievement of the EU climate change targets that this funding allocation is revised at the earliest possible opportunity, and that funding for non-nuclear energy research and development is increased significantly.

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