Political

Electoral register database scrapped, at last

Back in 2009 I speculated that the plan for a centralised version of the country’s electoral registers (the CORE project) should win a prize for worst government IT project:

Back in early 2001 I sat in a consultation meeting where the project was being planned, with the data available on CD (ah! those were the days) and then securely online in early 2002 …

One of my favourite memories of this whole saga was when both the Electoral Commission and the Government in fairly quick succession carried out a consultation that went over pretty much the same ground. As a result, I was twice interviewed on the subject, being asked very similar questions each time – by the very same person, who happened to have changed jobs between the two in between the two interviews!

The other favourite memory will be discovering that the Government was fighting the Information Commission for the rights to shred the record of one of my interviews:

The idea, too, that what I said in an interview is so sensitive that it has to be exempted from Freedom of Information requests and the interview notes destroyed makes the interview sound far more interesting than it was. I doubt any terrorist would benefit from knowing my views on the merits of BS7666 and how BFPO addresses should be handled. (Perhaps if you read my words backwards in French a mysterious message revealing the keys to the nation’s nuclear deterrent emerges?)

But the serious point is that huge amounts of time (and hence money) has been spent on getting not very far over the years.

So this is excellent news:

Plans to create an expensive database of electors are to be abandoned saving taxpayers more than £11m, the Government has announced …

The Government will work with the Electoral Commission and others to consider other, less costly, ways to improve the provision of electoral registration information.

Scrapping is the right decision, even though some of the original motivations behind the project were good ones. Those involved in checking whether or not donations to parties or candidates are legally permissible would have found the job easier and more accurate had the database ever made it to a successful launch, for example. In the end, however, those potential gains were far too small compared to the long-running, money-eating project that was going nowhere, slowly.

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