Saturday, June 16, 2007

$1,300,000,000 in digital technologies for Europeans to age well

It is Saturday – that means I can gripe.

Yep, you read the number correctly. $1.3 bn. This is what the press release from the European Commission has to say.
Responding to the needs of Europe's growing ageing population, the Commission has today adopted a European Action Plan for "Ageing Well in the Information Society". This Action Plan is accompanied by a new joint European research programme on information and communications technologies (ICT) targeted at improving the life of older people at home, in the workplace and in society in general. These new EU initiatives will contribute to allowing older Europeans to stay active for longer and live independently. Together they promise a triple win for Europe: improved quality of life and social participation for older people in Europe, new business opportunities for Europe's industries, and more efficient and more personalised health and social services.
I should be delighted. Firstly, because it is a signal of taking the 50-plus market seriously and secondly because it should lead to new businesses in Europe targeting products and services to the 50-plus. But no, joyous I ain’t.

Imagine taking a shovel, going to the nearest place you can dig a hole and spending the next 10 minutes creating a deep pit. Now take $1.3 bn in single dollar bills and put them into your newly dug hole. Take a match and toss it in the hole. Stand back and watch the lot go up in smoke.

Doing this you will have got some exercise and on a cold day something to keep you warm as the money went up in flames. That is a infinitely more benefit than will come out of this EU project. Why?

1. About half this amount will go on the internal admin of the scheme

2. Choice of projects will be on the basis of involving all of the EU countries rather than the ability of any of them to deliver benefits.

3. Academia will get the lion’s share of the funding with a pile of abstract and useless projects that are more concerned with keeping the academics employed and published in journals than in delivering value for money.

4. A few large companies, who have the bureaucracy to jump through the hoops that the EU will erect to getting funding, will get involved. They would have done the projects in any case but they might as well get taxpayers to fund their research.

5. A large contract will be placed with a consultancy to monitor and create endless content about the project

In 3-4 years time a stack of reports will be produced that nobody will read. Nobody will remember why $1,300,000,000 was extracted from European taxpayers and none of the ‘results’ will make one iota of difference to the life of older Europeans. Welcome to Euroland. Dick Stroud

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