What shall we do with the PSP?

Ofcom, the independent regulator of the UK telecommunications industries, plans to analyse the economics behind of the provision of public service digital media content to try to work out if there is any "shortfall in provision". I doubt that means another overhaul of the BBC however.

Behind the scenes Ofcom has been consulting many people in the digital media industry about using online to deliver public service "audio-visual content" but there remains a question over where any intervention is needed.

The options up for debate are the creation of a "Public Service Publisher" (PSP) which either helps citizens navigate to other sources of public service content or acts as a fund for public service content, rather like a VC. In the former case, since Google, Yahoo! and MSN all spend billions of pounds every year on making their search engines work as a business, it does seem a tad optimistic that a bunch of civil servants and private contractors are going to be able to come up with a web site which beats the GYM club when it comes to algorithmic search.

In the latter case, Ofcom's research has not turned up much enthusiasm for the VC route, with this proposal pointing out that there is no consensus on the required scale or source of potential funding. They are not that keen on an open rights model either, despite the lobbying no doubt from the Open Rights Group.

Meanwhile some ideas about what the PSP should do are coming in from different quarters.

Recently, The power of information report by the founder of mySociety, Tom Steinberg, and chief executive of the National Consumer Council, Ed Mayo, set out a roadmap for the government to help online communities create and reuse information for the benefit of citizens.

This found that by supporting the existing innovation of citizens, with facilitation and greater access to information; government will be creating opportunities for people to become empowered to make informed decisions and create solutions to improve their lives.

Tom Steinberg, founder and Director of mySociety said: “Around the world, the first phase of Government use of the Internet is coming to an end with public services and information largely online. We are now at the start of a new era, where Government starts to learn how to support citizens' own ways of making, finding and re–using information.”

In other words, this seems to suggest either that there IS a funding route for the PSP - supporting new projects financially - or that government should put in a better framework around the media industry which allows citizens to "re–use" information in a creative way.

But that puts us back into the DRM debate and open access to data and information. This story will run and run...

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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.