Category Archives: Government

Brexit – sources of information

Please note: a regularly updated version of this posting is now on the main website at 

Those of us living and working in the UK are constantly bombarded with news and information of varying quality on Brexit. I regularly run workshops on sources of business information and,  inevitably, these now include a section on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, commonly referred to as Brexit. One of the exercises I give those attending the workshop is to draw up their own individual list of resources that they are likely to use for keeping up to date, or as starting points for researching the topic. We then produce a combined list for the whole group.  I have listed below a selection of those resources, concentrating on the more general sources rather than industry specific sites that were mentioned in some of the sessions.  It is by no means a comprehensive list and this blog posting will not be updated,  but I have created a separate web page Brexit – UK withdrawal from the EU, which will be added to and amended periodically.

EU referendum results

Electoral Commission EU referendum results
The Electoral Commission is the independent body that oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. This page shows the voting totals and results by region and by area within that region. You can download the results data in full as a CSV file. There are also links to results visualisations, information on grants to designated lead campaigners, the Electoral Commissions assessment of the EU referendum question and their recommended amendment, and the voting guides.

EU Referendum Results – BBC News
The BBC referendum results page and linked pages presents the same information as the Electoral Commission but in a slightly different way. There are links to the BBC news stories and videos on and around the date of the referendum.

Results of the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016 – Wikipedia 
Another page showing the voting results in a variety of ways but in addition this one has links at the end to external sources reporting on the run up to the referendum and local press articles some of which show a breakdown of the results by ward.


Brexit: research and analysis – UK Parliament
“Research and analysis from Parliament’s libraries and committees on how leaving the EU will affect different policy areas in the UK”.
Brexit email alerts on updates and new content are available.

Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU – BBC News
Background information on the what has happened so far, what is happening now, what has been agreed and what needs to be agreed. There is also a long list of FAQs (frequently asked questions), many of which cannot be answered yet but some possibilities are discussed.

The Guardian – Weekly Brexit Briefing
A very useful summary and update from The Guardian newspaper on what has been happening over the past week. You can sign up to receive the briefing by weekly email and there is also a weekly Brexit Means podcast.

General News Search

If you are interested in seeing articles that represent a wider range of viewpoints and opinions, run a search on Brexit in Google News and Bing News. As well as the national and regional UK papers, these will also pick up stories appearing in the press in other countries.


European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 – UK Parliament
Use this page to monitor the progress of the Bill through Parliament and see related documents such as:

  • Full text of the Bill as introduced and further versions of the Bill as it is reprinted to incorporate amendments (proposals for change) made during its passage through Parliament.
  • Tracked changes versions of the Bill
  • Explanatory Notes
  • Full list of amendment papers relating to the Bill.
  • Public Bill Committee and report stage proceedings
  • House of Commons Library and House of Lords Library briefing papers
  • Will write letters (Questions put to government Ministers during debates on Bills may be answered by the Minister saying ‘I will write to the Hon Member’. “Will write” replies are not published in Hansard but are placed in the Library of the House concerned and published on the Parliamentary website.)

Alerts on changes to the page, stage reached by the Bill, and new documents are available by email and RSS.

Blog | UK Constitutional Law Association
Affiliated to the International Association of Constitutional Law. The UKCLA blog provides analysis and comment on matters of constitutional law in the UK. Not suprisingly, many of the current blog postings cover some aspect of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

Jack of Kent blog
“News and comment on law and policy, from a liberal and critical perspective”. Written by David Allen Green who is a legal commentator at and a former legal correspondent of the New Statesman. Currently posting mainly about Brexit.

Public Law for Everyone – Professor Mark Elliott
Another source of comment and analysis on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Written by Mark Elliott, Professor of Public Law at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and Legal Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution. The views expressed on this blog are in a purely personal capacity.

More UK information vanishes into GOV.UK

Just when you’ve finally worked out how to search some of the key UK government web resources they disappear into the black hole that is GOV.UK.

The statistics publication hub went over a few weeks ago and the link now redirects to Similarly, Companies House is now to be found at and the Land Registry is at Most of the essential data, such as company information and ownership of properties, can still be found via GOV.UK and in fact some remains in databases on the original websites. For example, following the links on GOV.UK for information on a company eventually leads you to the familiar WebCHeck service at Companies House useful list of overseas registries, however, seems to have totally disappeared but is in fact hidden in a general section covering all government “publications” (

Documents may no longer be directly accessible from the new departmental home pages so a different approach is needed if you are conducting in-depth research. GOV.UK is fine for finding out how to renew your car tax or book your driving theory test – two of the most popular searches at the moment – but its search engine is woefully inadequate when it comes to locating detailed technical reports or background papers. Using Google’s or Bing’s site command to search GOV.UK is the only way to track them down quickly, for example biofuels public transport  Note that you need to include the ‘www’ in the site command as would also pick up articles published on local government websites. This assumes, though, that the document you are seeking has been transferred over to GOV.UK.

There have been complaints from researchers, including myself, that an increasing number of valuable documents and research papers have gone AWOL as more departments and agencies are assimilated Borg-like by GOV.UK. Some of the older material has been moved to the UK Government Web Archive at

This offers you various options including an A-Z of topics and departments and a search by keyword, category or website. The latter is slow and clunky with a tendency to keel over when presented with complex queries. I have spent hours attempting to refine my search and wading through page after page of results only to find that the article I need is not there, nor anywhere else, which is an experience several of my colleagues have had. This has led to conspiracy theories suggesting that the move to GOV.UK has provided a golden opportunity to “lose” documents.

I am reminded of a scene from Yes Minister:

James Hacker: [reads memo] This file contains the complete set of papers, except for a number of secret documents, a few others which are part of still active files, some correspondence lost in the floods of 1967…

James Hacker: Was 1967 a particularly bad winter?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: No, a marvellous winter. We lost no end of embarrassing files.

James Hacker: [reads] Some records which went astray in the move to London and others when the War Office was incorporated in the Ministry of Defence, and the normal withdrawal of papers whose publication could give grounds for an action for libel or breach of confidence or cause embarrassment to friendly governments.

James Hacker: That’s pretty comprehensive. How many does that normally leave for them to look at?

James Hacker: How many does it actually leave? About a hundred?… Fifty?… Ten?… Five?… Four?… Three?… Two?… One?… *Zero?*

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes, Minister.

From “Yes Minister” The Skeleton in the Cupboard (TV Episode 1982) – Quotes – IMDb 

For “floods of 1967” substitute “transfer of files to GOV.UK”.

Does price guarantee quality of information?

I recently co-presented a webinar on researching legal information. The event was organised by TFPL, and Alan Blanchard and myself reviewed free and paid for resources together with key search techniques.

Throughout the session we polled the audience on a number of issues, the first question being “Does price guarantee quality when you are purchasing information?”. Surprisingly, given the topic of the webinar, 70% voted ‘No’ with the remaining 30% opting for ‘I don’t know’ rather than ‘Yes’. When we asked about their opinions on free information, though, 79% said they would need a result from a free source to be validated with a paid resource.

The audience could not qualify their answers – it was a simple yes/no/don’t know – but there were some interesting discussions on the issues after the event. The priced services certainly have to work hard to prove value for money and they cannot assume that their users will automatically renew each year. Free information has a big part to play in legal and business research but it is vital that one is aware of the limitations of free. For example, do you know how up to date is and if it carries revised legislation? (See for the answer). And then there is the issue of making Google run your search the way you want it run, without personalisation or deviation.

I am running two public access workshops this autumn for TFPL that look at free versus fee resources for business and legal information. The first, on 19th September 2013, is Business information: key web resources and covers:

  • Portals and key starting points
  • Company information
  • Industry information
  • Official statistics, market research
  • News sources, RSS and alerting services
  • Social media and professional networks

The second is Free resources and search techniques for EU and UK legislation and is on 13th November 2013. It will be looking at:

  • How to use advanced search commands to find news and information on legislation
  • How to use reading level and date ranges to focus the search
  • Searching foreign language pages
  • Options for searching journals, research information, grey literature
  • Alternatives to Google, specialist tools and sites
  • Assessing quality and relevance

Both days include practical sessions and places on the workshops are limited. Contact TFPL for further information and bookings.

The case of the disappearing press release

UK government departments and organisations frequently change their names, merge or disappear altogether. The same applies to their websites and documents held on those sites. Tracking down copies of older reports, data and superseded guidelines and regulations is becoming increasingly difficult, especially as so many sites are now being closed down. Information is supposed to be transferred to the new web site ( but historical information is in danger of vanishing altogether.

I recently needed to get back to a press release issued by the Potato Council (yes, there really is such a thing!) dated November 9, 2007. The title of the document was “Provisional Estimate of GB Potato Supply for 2007” and I had the original URL in my notes. The URL is no longer on the Potato Council’s web site and searching the site failed to turn up the document. Searching the Potato Council’s web site using the Google site: command also failed to find it. I next ran the URL through Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo and found 2 references to it in research papers but not the press release itself.

As I had the URL my next stop was the Internet Archive Wayback Machine ( but the archive found nothing. The Wayback Machine periodically takes snapshots of web sites and lets you browse those copies by date. You can enter the URL of a home page or an individual page. The snapshots are not taken every time a website changes so there are gaps in its coverage, and a page or document can be missed. Hoping that the URL might have changed at some point I browsed copies of the Potato Council’s site for late 2007 and early 2008, but no joy.

Next I tried the UK Government Web Archive at the National Archives ( This is similar to the Wayback Machine but concentrates on UK government sites and related official bodies. One of the options is to browse the A-Z directory. I found fewer archive copies than in the Wayback Machine but hoped that the one entry for 2008 might come up trumps. Unfortunately it did not.

Archive copies of the Potato Council web site

Another possibility was that Zanran ( might have a copy. Zanran concentrates on indexing and searching information contained in charts, graphs and tables of data. It archives copies of the documents and I have used it several times to track down information that has been removed from the live web. A search on potato supply estimate UK 2007 came up with a list of results with my document at the top.

Zanran search result

At first glance, it does not appear to match the document I am looking for because the title is different. The titles listed by Zanran are not always those of the whole document but the labels or captions associated with the individual charts and tables. If you hover over the thumbnail to the left of the entry you can see a preview of a much larger section to make sure you have the right document. Clicking on the thumbnail or title will usually take you to Zanran’s archive copy.

Had I not found the press release on Zanran, I would next have contacted the Potato Council. My experience, though, is that very few organisations are able or willing to supply older documents such as press releases. My last resort would have been to contact the authors of the two papers I had found via Google to see if they had kept copies.

I usually keep copies of all papers and pages that I use as part of my research on major projects but inevitably there are times when I forget. As demonstrated above, there are several tools that can be used to try and track down documents that have disappeared from the web but success is not guaranteed.

Tweetminster maps turnout in UK election

Tweetminster, Channel 4, The Guardian and the New Statesman are teaming up to map voter turnout in the UK general election today (6th May 2010). See for details. Twitter users are being asked to tweet #ukvote followed by the first half of their postcode and the information will be plotted on a map in real time at Voters do not have to reveal who they voted for.

Obviously the map will be biassed as it will only include information from those on Twitter but the aim is to encourage more people to vote and to help get a sense of turnout during the course of the day and across the country. You may recognise the format as being similar to the #uksnow maps, which inspired this initiative.

If you haven’t come across Tweetminster before, this was set up in 2009 to enable people to follow MPs and UK politics on Twitter. You can track the tweets of MPs, Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs), as well as political journalists, comentators and news sources. Further details of the 2009 launch of Tweetminster can be found in The Independent and Tweetminster team up to launch Twitter-based service

A Grumpy Old Woman’s view of Britain’s Digital Future

Wordle of Gordon Brown’s speech “Building Britain’s digital Future”

Gordon Brown outlined the UK government’s plans for “Building Britain’s Digital Future” this morning. (Twitter hashtag #bbdf). On re-reading the draft of my comments on the event it struck me that I have become a Grumpy Old Woman. I might been more positive had I not tried to watch the live video over a broadband that barely achieves 1 mbps at best. The stop-start-stop-stop nature of my viewing did nothing for my concentration and everything for my exasperation. At the same time I was following #bbdf on Twitter and the tweets suggested that I had missed some key points. And that is the problem with these wonderful plans to persuade us all to access and use public services online. It requires everyone to have a fast, reliable broadband connection. Without that how can I as a citizen be sure of the integrity of the information that I am receiving, that the electronic form I have just submitted has indeed been sent, or that the data held about me is correct?

Fast broadband access is central to the government’s plans: every household is to have access to broadband by 2012. Oops, sorry – that should have been nearly every household. (Definition of “nearly” please?).  Also, that only refers to existing broadband services so if you end up in the slow lane at 256 kbps you are stuck there!  But be of good cheer. There are plans to add a charge of 50 pence a month to each household’s phone line “to help fund a partnership with the private sector for a superfast broadband network right across Britain”. This is supposed to be in place by 2020 but exactly how many will have access and how it will be implemented seems to be up to the “partnership”  – no details other than the broadband tax were mentioned. Neither is “superfast” defined. I assume it is going be faster than my pathetic 1Mbps in which case there is going to have to be fibre optic in these ‘ere hills instead of copper, and that is going to cost us more than a measly 50p a month per phone line.

Gordon, or rather his speech writers,were keen to make us aware that he knows all the jargon, although “semantic web” and “linked data” have more sinister connotations when uttered by a member of the government. We are also going to be treated to an iPhone app. I thought that he said this was to be free but it has been spotted for sale with a price tag of £1.99. I checked the transcript of Gordon’s speech and what he actually said was “we are launching a brand new Number 10 iPhone application that will bring news, video and audio from the downing street website to potentially millions of users completely free of charge.” So the information is free but the application isn’t?  We seem to have a new definition of the phrase “completely free”.

Directgov is to be replaced by a “more interactive second generation form of digital engagement” called MyGov. This will be how UK citizens will be expected to “interact” with government and access public services. I honestly cannot see this working given the current track record of government web sites. Directgov’s search engine is so appalling that in desperation the bods at created a far superior Google custom search engine called Directionlessgov (  Try a search on “Building Britain’s Digital Future” in Directionlessgov and compare the results from DirectGov with those from the Google CSE.

Even if you do find the department you need to “engage with” you have to embark on a quest to achieve your goal. You want a pension forecast? You are told you are using an unsupported browser if you log in with anything other than IE 6 or FireFox 2 (“later versions have not been fully security tested”): GAME OVER – GAME OVER. I try and fill in my VAT return online using Firefox: the login pages are full of runic script. I concede defeat, the rebellion is quashed, and I use Internet Explorer rather than face the wrath of HMRC.

One good thing that may come out of this is that public sector employees will need to engage more with citizens (I assume that Gordon means electronically!).  Does this mean that at long last central and local government departments will be ditching IE6 and antique operating systems? If they don’t, how can they “engage” with citizens in the new personalised, social media driven government world?  And who is going to pay for upgrades to the  hardware so that they can then upgrade the software so that they can then use social media to “engage” with us, the citizens?

But  there is some really good news in Gordon’s speech. He referred to the launch of saying that  “this initiative has attracted – globally – has been very striking.”  But there’s more.  “The Department for Transport and the transport industry are today making available the core reference datasets that contain the precise names and co-ordinates of all 350 thousand bus stops, railway stations and airports in Britain.” In addition, public transport timetables and real-time running information, which is currently owned by the operating companies, will have to be made freely available as a condition of future franchises. Note, though,  that this applies to future and not existing franchises 🙁

Even better news (possibly) for those of us lobbying for Ordnance Survey data to be made freely available:

“Following the strong support in our recent consultation, I can confirm that from 1st April, we will be making a substantial package of information held by ordnance survey freely available to the public, without restrictions on re-use.”

Again, there is room for manoeuvre on this: what will be included in the “substantial package” and “further details on the package and government’s response to the consultation will be published by the end of March.

To research, support and realise this grand vision of Digital Britain we are to have a new Institute of Web Science. It will be “based here in Britain and working with government and British business to realise the social and economic benefits of advances in the web“. This sounds ominously like another money wasting quango, but it will be headed by Sir Tim Berners Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt. If those two are given free rein we should be spared ludicrous reports such as those generated by Consumer Focus (“Mandy quango says Apple, Amazon are too obscure”  The Register In addition Martha Lane Fox is to become the UK’s digital champion and help establish a new digital public services unit.

At the end of the presentation I was left wondering about those who will not able to participate in this great vision of the future, either because they are the ones who are not included in the “nearly every household connected to broadband” or because they may not want to. It also assumes that the interconnections between the different government departments will really work and that the data they have on us is accurate. In his speech Gordon Brown spoke of doctors holding video consultations from their surgeries with patients at home. For that to happen the doctor has to have accurate and up to date medical records for the patient. As I know only too well medical records may not only be wrong but may also have disappeared altogether. (See You haven’t been ill enough so we assumed you were dead  I now wonder what other personal data about me is wrong or has gone missing.

There will have to be an election soon and there will be many opportunities for all of this to be forgotten. Even if Labour are re-elected the wording of this speech is such that there is a plethora of escape routes. As the saying goes I shall believe it when I see it!

The transcript of Gordon Brown’s speech is available at  Building Britain’s Digital Future ( security stupidity nothing new

Those of you who have been following the comments to my earlier blog posting (Please Use Firefox 2 or IE 6) or my Twitter tweets might be interested in an item I wrote for my newsletter Tales from the Terminal Room, July 2002. Entitled “Inland Revenue’s Cookies Fail Crunch Test” – sorry about the awful pun – it suggests that seems to have learned little about security over the last 7 years:

In the UK, it is that time of year when we suddenly realise that we have only a few weeks to complete our tax forms and deliver them to the Inland Revenue. I, says she rather smugly, have already done mine but not online as the UK government continually exhorts us to do. I did have a go last year but the Web site kept crashing and after four attempts I reverted to the good old-fashioned paper form. This year I did not even consider the online route, which is just as well because the service had to be temporarily withdrawn following a security breach.

A problem with cookies allowed users of Inland Revenue’s online self-assessment tax form to see other people’s tax details. An official statement explained: “The way in which the ‘session cookie’ identifying the user was managed meant that it could, in certain rare circumstances, be presented to another user.”

It seems that Inland Revenue’s site allocated the same cookie to more than one user because they were using IP addresses to identify users. Many Internet users, and especially those accessing the Internet from home, use ISPs with dynamic IP addressing: that is the ISP allocates a different IP address to a user each time they access the Net, which means that the same IP address may be assigned to several different users in quick succession.

The Inland Revenue said that examination of activity logs suggested that the web site had compromised the privacy of 47 of the site’s 28,679 users and there were 665 for whom the possibility could not be eliminated.

The problem has now been fixed and the site is back up and running, but I for one am not reassured.

For the Inland Revenue’s side of the story see:

Inevitably, the URL in the final sentence no longer works but you can still view a copy at  Copy and paste the whole URL into the Waybackmachine Take Me Back box, and on the list of results click on August 2002.  Alternatively, should take you straight there.

Please use Firefox 2 or IE 6

This would normally fall into the “I don’t belieeeeve it” category had I not already heard of the problems endured by UK central and local government departments in trying to move on from Internet Explorer 6.

Out of curiosity I decided to see what pittance I might receive from the state when I retire so tried the advertised First of all I could not just use my existing username and password for the government gateway service to use the pension forecasting service. That’s fair enough. I appreciate the additional security level but then I had to wait two weeks for an activation code. This morning it arrived, I “activated” my account and attempted to log in. In a flash, a “Technical Error” page popped up with error and error ID codes, and instructions to phone them for help.

What followed has left me stunned.

“Are you using Firefox or Internet Explorer?” the nice lady asked.


“Which version?”

“3.5.2” I replied

“If you want to use Firefox, you’ll have to go back to version 2”

A few seconds of silence followed and then I asked if I could use IE 8. No, was the answer, it had to be IE6 or possibly IE7. Google Chrome? Not compatible. Opera? She wasn’t sure but if it was the latest version then no. Safari? Er..probably not. She explained that they haven’t security tested the latest versions of the browsers and Chrome is definitely out.

It is pathetic, stupid and irresponsible. We are all exhorted to keep our browsers up to date as part of our online security measures but the UK government is encouraging us to do the opposite. We are encouraged to file our tax returns online and use the government web sites to obtain information about our entitlements, but to do so we have to use browsers from the stone age. It does not fill me with confidence. Quite the opposite, I am beginning to feel seriously paranoid regarding the security of sites.

So have I got my pension forecast? Once I had stopped haranguing the poor lady on the help desk I was transferred to another department, my personal details were taken, and I was told my forecast would be in the post in about 10 days. So much for fast, efficient e-government!

I am still sitting here gobsmacked and wondering if I dreamed the whole thing. I think, after all, that this has to be filed as a Victor Meldrew moment.

Online maps for local crime statistics

Police forces in England and Wales are now providing access to local crime statistics via online maps. These allow the public to drill down to ward level and view crime trends in their area. The statistics include information about burglary, robbery, theft, vehicle crime, violent crime and anti-social behaviour.

The maps should be available via the local police web sites, although you may have to hunt around for the links. Once you have found the maps, you can either browse them or enter your post code to find information on just your area. The interfaces and presentation of the data can vary considerably between police forces as does the break-down of the crime statistics. Thames Valley provides a basic map and tables of data, while others such as the Metropolitan police offer graphs as well as the figures. All of the online maps colour code areas according to the levels of crime: high, above average, average, below average, low or no crime.

Metropolitan Police crime statistics for postcode DA17 5JD

Metropolitan Police statistics for postcode DA17 5JD

LARIA/ALGIS Presentation: Web 2.0 in the Public Sector

The presentation I gave at ‘Managing Information in the Public Sector – The Future – Relaunching ALGIS’ is now available on Slideshare at and on Authorstream at .

The slides are based on earlier Web 2.0 presentations but I have included examples from local government authorities and public libraries. Apologies to those of you I have used as examples: you may be deluged with enquiries from the seminar participants! There was a lot of interest in what is being done especially by local authorities.

The event was a joint LARIA/ALGIS seminar and held in London at Baden Powell House, London, Tuesday 18th November 2008. All the presentations will be available on the LARIA web site.