Magazine article Public Finance

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Magazine article Public Finance

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TWO OF THE barriers to greater use of technology to improve public services are lack of trust in the systems and public concern about security of data. Improving both of these is therefore vital.

At a technical level, IT security is very specialised and best left to experts, whereas 'trust' is about perceptions, communication and human issues. Ensuring that citizens and employees trust the systems in use and that adequate security is in place are essential components of good corporate governance and risk management. Managers can't abrogate these responsibilities to their IT staff - they need to work with them to balance access, risks and perceptions.

In a modern society, it is vital to share information to access services, verify identity, prevent fraud and protect vulnerable people. Technology potentially enables this to be completed quickly, accurately and securely. For example, taxing your car online is now very simple and painless. The benefits are substantial for both service users and providers. Last year, more than 3.7 million motorists renewed their car tax online, saving themselves time and travel, which also saved millions of pounds for the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency.

At the other extreme, two public inquiries have recommended greater and more structured sharing of information to protect children and identify potential miscreants. The first was Lord Laming's investigation into the death of Victoria Climbié; the second, Sir Michael Bichard's examination of child protection procedures following the Soham murders. But the recommendations have proved very difficult to implement, in part because of understandable fears about access to sensitive personal data. There are similar concerns about identity cards.

Research shows that, despite the economic problems, around half the country is happy with data security standards at their bank and building society, two-fifths trust travel companies and credit card issuers, and around a third are comfortable with data security at hotels and insurance firms.

Far fewer are satisfied with local authorities (23%) and central government departments (19%). This has probably been influenced by the numerous high-profile data losses by public sector bodies. …

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