A quick factoid for you: If I was to stand up and talk about each Quango for just one minute, I would sit down after a marathon speech of 19 hours and 8 minutes. With over a thousand Quangos in the UK, I’m sure you’ll forgive me for not remembering all of them, although occasionally some of the more obscure ones raise their ugly heads above the parapet. This week it is the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA), and taxpayers have certainly paid a price for its ideas.
Like many of you, the Internet is my first port of call when I need some information. It doesn’t seem to matter what information you need, somewhere, somehow you will find it on the web. Thanks to advances in technology, I can also access anything I want on my mobile phone. I can send e-mails, check the latest news reports and access information about council services. If I’m having problems, instead of using my phone as a computer, I can dial a number and speak to someone. This is what the majority of people do, and those who do not have access to the Internet can pop down to their local library or use a friend’s computer. In short, it has never been easier for us to get the information we need.
In 2005 – with the encouragement of IDeA - Doncaster Council announced it would be installing 38 public information kiosks in public buildings and on street corners. It is only five years ago and at the time many people were using computers with Internet connections at home, and the next generation of mobile phones were about to be launched. Why then would you find the need to access information about council services on a street corner? The people of Doncaster answered the question very well; they didn’t and unsurprisingly many of these kiosks were vandalised. There was also - unsurprisingly when it comes to government IT projects – a series of technical problems which added to the costs. Now, five years later, the scheme is being quietly scrapped, with the taxpayer picking up a bill of over £600,000.
There are two morals to this story. When too many people think it isn’t their money, they will waste it, and when our money is spent in a largely unaccountable way, more will be wasted in hair-brained schemes like this one. Doncaster Council should have known better, although IDeA, in an attempt to justify its existence, pushed council officers in this direction. How many other councils around the country fell for it and how much of our money has been wasted on similar schemes? When the Bonfire of the Quangos starts to burn, I will happily place IDeA on it.