Social Audit Ltd
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Mrs. D A Leakey, Information Pharmacist
Medicines Control Agency
Market Towers, 1 Nine Elms Lane
London SW8 5NQ

28 July 1999

Dear Mrs Leakey,

Thank you for your letter of 26 July (Ref OG/99/32) and many congratulations on your outstanding strike rate in our quiz. You also get lots of bonus points for brevity and speed of response.

However, I am also deducting a few. Repeating what you told me about the quality of the paper the Agency uses, in response to my asking if the MCA has an environmental policy, was rather like insisting that you keep pharmaceutical products out of the reach of children in response to a question about medicines' policy. But let's leave it, because the answer to my question is evidently NO.

On the email question, I concede defeat by a margin that leaves you head and shoulders above the competition - and any frisson of satisfaction you might feel at rubbing my nose in the truth would seem richly deserved. And don't be misled by that smiling face in the MCA annual report, nor the many warm words of self-congratulation in the text. Just between ourselves, neither Mr Alder nor Dr Jones are remotely in the running for our Star Prize.

Anyway, I was getting so baffled, I called our Head of IT, and he explained the technicalities. OK, there is no list. I asked the wrong questions. How naive: there I was seeking admission to the odd mailbox with thoughts of ease and economy of communication. Meanwhile, your end, there was this horrifying thought of me surfing the MCA intranet, promoting subversive ideas and words of discouragement to all and sundry. Bad news wrapped in high protein, eh? But the penny's now dropped. Of course there's no policy document, just a policy that is electronically embedded and enshrined. I'd never thought about the possibility of a paradoxical relationship between truth and openness before.

So, good luck with your active investigation of the possibility of effective communication with the outside world. As the beneficiaries of a decade of costly advice from Andersen Consulting "to pioneer the use of emerging technologies in a series of electronic systems to address the agency's information management needs", no doubt the MCA will find better ways of applying the white heat of electronic technology, in due course.

Yours sincerely,
Charles Medawar


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List of correspondence with MCA/CSM