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The Post-Bureaucratic Age comes back to life

By Peter Hoskin
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Forget the huskies — computers were a considerably more important part of the early Cameron leadership. The man himself could barely stop talking about them, about the Internet, about data and technology. And much of this fell under the banner of the Post-Bureaucratic Age, the idea that ordinary citizens, armed with little more than keyboards and information, could take greater control over the services they receive. It was all part of the Google zeitgeist.

Sadly, some of this fell away with the birth of the Coalition. The very phrase “the Post-Bureaucratic Age” was subsumed underneath the bigger umbrella term, “the Big Society”. And Mr Cameron stopped enthusing about computers so much, as he turned to the austere business of deficit reduction. It wasn’t so much that his Government had turned away from post-bureaucracy: it hadn’t, as its continuing efforts to free-up government data amply demonstrate. It's more that was talked about less.

Which is why it’s noteworthy to hear some very Post-Bureaucratic Age noises coming out of Westminster today. The Department of International Development has helped organise a full-day conference — called the Open Up! Conference — at which Justine Greening has given a speech on how to “use the technologies of the 21st century to transform people’s lives”. And that comes on top of Jeremy Hunt’s announcement that all patients should be able to do things like order prescriptions and book GP appointments online by 2015, and the recent publication of the Government Digital Strategy.

As it happens, I recommended that David Cameron return to such themes in an article for the Times (£) in August. As I see it, all this tech stuff is fertile ground for the Government. Where it relates to the public sector, it’s often a good example of how more can be achieved for less. Where it relates to the private sector, it’s an important part of any growth agenda. Hopefully, all of this will be pushed more consistently from now on. 


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