Today sees the launch of the "Manifesto for a Networked Nation" a government initiative
designed to maximise digital inclusion by 2012. I fully endorse it.
And yet, where Finland recently declared online connectivity to be a legal right
, here I'm distracted by the hype of an alleged economic saving of £22 billion.
Maybe it's my general antipathy for government marketing - how it all seem overly expensive, years behind the curve in its methodology and designed to prop up advertising agencies and management consultancies - but that sort of compulsory financial justification immediately makes me very suspicious.
I may be wrong but I see an amalgamation of savings estimates from a variety of sources (including consultancies) coupled with hints of double counting and the exclusion of incremental costs, not to mention supplier redundancies.
I accept that there are 6.4 million over-65s in the UK who have never used the internet and that an average household saving of £560 a year can be made by shopping and paying bills online. But even if one assumes that this represents 6.4 million single households with average bills (both unlikely), simple multiplication yields a maximum saving of £3.3 billion excluding ISP costs - a far cry from the £6 billion claimed becauseAchieving a similar increase to over-65s’ disposable income by increasing the Basic State Pension by £10 a week — ie £520 a year — would cost around £6bn a year.
As I say, I may be wrong or ovewrly sceptical, but the lesson is a universal one. If you use numbers in your marketing, you better be able to back them up. And if you have a real purpose-idea to promote, as is unquestionably the case here, then go ahead and promote it. Don't obscure it with hype.
Self-Congratulatory Addendum: After writing this post, I read a very supportive piece in today's Times. Under the headline "There is a social and moral imperative to get people online. This is not hype. This is really happening." it referred to the £22 billion as "one of those statistics that give the project a "pie in the sky" tone." I hope it's not.