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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4 Comments

  • Pete Dollimore 26th Jul '11 - 9:00am

    Perhaps Labour would have us believe they were driven to set up this project by a sense of idealism (many would suggest darker motives for a national database) but the incompetence demonstrated by this huge waste is staggering.

    For goodness sake, it didn’t ever need to be much more than a name and address list. Surely to goodness they could have got most of the benefits they sought – and in the process made life easier for everyone who uses the data – by consulting on a standard format for data interchange and then specifying one. Or even just publishing a spec – like the good old British Standards. It isn’t difficult and would hardly have cost any money at all. Perhaps the failure was to be overly consultative on such a trivial thing?

    Personally I find it hard to believe anyone could be so foolishly wasteful of public resources for such small ambitions so I must conclude that indeed Labour’s aims must have been much deeper, and unspoken.

    Labour went for the diamond standard and what we’ve ended up with is less use than coal dust …

  • Ian Campion-Smith 26th Jul '11 - 9:48am

    Is it not ironic then that the party is in the process of establishing a national electoral register database! I hope it’s cheaper and more successful.

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