Tuesday, 11 August 2009

New dawn?

In years to come political scientists,analysts and historians will see this as the age of the database. No problem faced by government was solvable without the creation of a database. No Minister could look their fellows in the eye without being the Minister who introduced another database. No civil servant could claim to serve the public without doing so via a database. In the world of the free market, evolution would give us the databases we need. While others believed that, come the revolution, everyman would have his own database and all databases would be equal.

Thus it will come as no surprise to you to know that John Denham, the Communities Secretary, wants to introduce a database and the Denham proposal is all to do with landlords. Naturally it is possible to make a case for this, to suggest that this is a 'good thing', but that is a job for Denham himself. All we have to note is that there is a familiar pattern here. The origins of the idea are to crack down on rogue landlords who fail to repair property or who improperly retain their tenants’ deposits. And you may say, 'there is nothing wrong with that', well actually there could be.

The idea is that landlords who behave that way now will sign up to a database and reform; common sense tells you they will simply carry on as before. Rather as a general database will not solve problems with terrorism, as would-be terrorists will duck out of the system, so will errant landlords. As with all databases there is a fee, the current proposal is that it should be £40 to register.

Also, as with all databases, it is started to do one job then ends up doing another. The data here could be given to tax inspectors and so far, so they say, that's all. However, common sense tells us that the police will get access and all in good time the information on landlords will end up as a building block in the National Information Register. Common sense also tells us that there will be leaks, inaccuracies and misuse by a whole range of authorities, much as local authorities saw fit to misuse legislation intended for one purpose to go spying on wheely bin use! That costs will soar is inevitable.

Failure to comply by simple oversight could result in legal proceedings thus further clogging up our law courts. If legislation in this area is not being properly applied then Denham should issue instructions to the relevant authorities and force them to apply existing law. Only if all else fails should he contemplate introducing new legislation, which should be of a specific and focused nature. But yet another database just looks like a bad case of 'me too' thinking.

So, new dawn and new database and well done Minister? Perhaps not.

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