Taxpayers’ Alliance: a case of Web 2.0 hypocrisy?

Alex pointed out yesterday the Taxpayers’ Alliance opposition to the public sector using Web 2.o technologies:

Taxpayers don’t want more Web2.0. They want an end to wasteful spending.

Now, if you think that spending money on Web 2.0 is necessarily wasteful (and that was the full depth of the Taxpayers’ Alliance – no nuanced point about some Web 2.0 technologies, or some projects – it was just this blanket opposition), you’d have thought the Taxpayers’ Alliance would apply the same standards  to themselves?

In which case, they really had better shop themselves to their funders for wasting money as, er…, their own website is build on Web2.o technologies. As Simon Dickson points out:

I was interested to find out more about TPA’s view of ‘Web2.0’… so I visited their website. Or specifically, their Typepad-hosted blog. How very ‘Web2.0’ of them. I wonder do they know about the various government websites which have also used Typepad for its cheap hosting, instant availability and high degree of configurability. I haven’t heard them praising it, so maybe not.

But (and if you are a Taxpayers’ Alliance donor, you really should look away now) it’s worse than that. Because the Taxpayers’ Alliance ran a job ad for themselves earlier this year looking for someone specifically to work on Web2.0 projects for themselves:

The new venture will have an exciting Web 2.0 component, so a general familiarity with UK politics on the internet is essential and an understanding of Web 2.0 campaigning would be extremely beneficial. (Hat-tip: @otherTPA)

Not quite consistent with blanket opposition to using Web 2.0 technology as always being wasteful is it?

Mind you, one thing the Taxpayers’ Alliance has got right is their handling of the media (or, conversely, one thing the media has got wrong is the handling of the Taxpayers’ Alliance). I say that because this is only the latest in a series of increasingly extreme, verging on the absurd, comments – nearly all of which have been reported by the media at face value. Far more moderate comments from other pressure groups across the political spectrum are regularly accompanied by critical counter-quotes from others. The TPA, thought, usually gets a free ride.

Here’s a quick reminder of some of those other extreme comments: if you spend 11 seconds a day at work doing non-work stuff, it’s a terrible waste (even if you spend that time in your lunch hour), public sector bodies should never change their financial policies (a bit weird, you might think, give the TPA’s policy is to call for change, but hey ho) and training staff is a waste of money (the one exception where there was some comment back).

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  • Yes, yes BUT – in the case of councils, that’s *taxpayers* money, and therefore completely different standards must apply (gives smug, “knowing” TPA look)

    In TPA-world it seems taxpayer-funded bodies must use vellum and quills, and let the rest of the world pass them by, in order to save tuppence-hapenny on the rates.

  • Chris Keating 4th Sep '09 - 10:31am

    Let’s be honest, if the Taxpayers Alliance had been around 20 years ago they’d have been complaining that Councils were wasting money on providing staff with computers, and if they’d been around 100 years ago they’d have been insisting that electric lighting was a dangerous luxury in government offices…

  • The Orator, one presumes that it is you that does not ‘get it’. Public bodies who waste money through inefficient management or incompetent procurement should be taken to account, that is certain, but claiming that a particular vision of delivering public services is ‘wasting money’ is a partisan standpoint, and not one with which all taxpayers will agree.

    The TPA provides a valuable service inasmuch as it holds inefficient public sector bodies to account, but when it presumes to speak for all taxpayers, without any sort of democratic mandate – as it does above – it begins to look ridiculous.

  • But the TPA does claim to speak on behalf of all taxpayers – hence the sentence “Taxpayers don’t want more Web2.0”. It claims it knows what they want, all of them, as a unanimous group. This is a ridiculous position, given even half a second’s thought. My reference to democratic mandate implies that the only body who can claim to speak for taxpayers is one elected to spend money on their behalf, or indeed elected to hold that money-spending body to account. That provides legitimacy – anything else is merely empty rhetoric. Your point about the subject of accountability is the facile pedantry of someone who’s lost an argument.

    And Alix, I must disagree. Contemporary politics and the dispositions of voters therein is formed by the information they have access to and that which is provided for them. Therefore, anyone attempting to influence the opinions of the electorate is a political player, and as such, fair game. This includes the media – would you object to anyone pointing out the hypocrisy of the Sun?

    That said, this particular article is gutter sniping, and as such not really effective. Take them to task for the areas of public service provision they consider to be wastes of money, not silly little slips like this one.

  • Herbert Brown 5th Sep '09 - 11:29pm

    “In both cases they made a blanket criticism which didn’t give any reason as to why it would apply to councils but not to a private organisation.”

    Actually, it did. It wasn’t, as represented in your piece above, “opposition to the public sector using Web 2.o technologies”. It was a specific criticism of the proposed creation of a new post associated with Web 2.0, at a salary of £75,000+ a year, and it specifically cited the record debt of the public sector as a reason why there was a need for economies.

    Quite possibly the Taxpayers’ Alliance doesn’t have a record debt (or, perhaps, any debt at all), and feels it can afford to employ someone in a £25,000+ position with a Web 2.0 “component”.

  • The BUPA analogy could highlight the TPA argument. If the BUPA receptionist said to the NHS receptionist: “You’re spending 5 hours a day on facebook is wasting my taxes, this is unfair”

    The NHS receptionist says ‘YOU too spend 5 hours on facebook!” but that doesn’t cost the NHS receptionist a dime (assuming he’s not a BUPA shareholder or customer, so why does he care?)

    Fundamentally though it’s not hypocrisy because the TPA is not a local council and technology is wasteful or useful depending on the cost and the context.
    Web 2.0 (aside from being a stupid buzzword) is generally used to mean technology making use of user generated content. Amazon reviews tend to get highlighted as a shining example of ‘pre web2.0 web2.0 tech’.

    So the argument should be do councils need to spend 75k on technology that allows tax payers to share information? Whilst the local council could run a wiki or something to promote local business / attractions / parks and possibly request comment on changes to policy?? I am pretty dubious that this should cost them 75k.

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