Public Services

Government Digital Strategy: a diminutive development

Published 10 March 2017

Whitehall's long awaited digital plan tells us little we didn't already know and should be treated therefore, not as a news source, but as evidence of what's being kept or killed by May's new regime

By Jessica Figueras

Theresa May's flagship industrial strategy has attracted criticism in recent days for a lack of detail. Hardly surprising, given the very existence of an industrial strategy that marks a break with 40 years of Tory orthodoxy.

Any genuinely new policy will take time to develop. But the Digital Strategy has been in preparation for the best part of two years, and still it's told us little we didn't already know. (Universal broadband? Who knew?). We treat it, therefore, not as a news source, but as evidence for what's being kept and what killed by May's new regime.

Thanks to Brexit, the main casualty was migration-friendly policy, such as visas for skilled overseas tech workers. In its place, a primary focus on the low- and medium-skilled. Not much cheer for public sector organisations and their suppliers struggling with skills shortages now, made worse by changes to IR35 self-employment rules. Still, improving universal digital skills is welcome, and it was good to see the tech industry doing its bit.

Naturally, references to the EU Digital Single Market have disappeared - but then that's linked to continuing enthusiasm for public cloud, in which the UK has always been somewhat of an outlier amongst EU member states. The government has restated a firm commitment to the EU's GDPR though, presumably thanks to long-term privacy advocate David Davis.

There's a clear recognition of GDPR's potentially valuable role in driving improvements to cyber risk management as well as privacy. Vendors note: public sector organisations desperately need help with both data governance and cyber, which are increasingly coupled together. Those not already doing so should be sharing their own best practices with customers.

Announcements on AI and robotics attracted a degree of publicity hardly consummate with just £17m of funding. But public sector organisations don't need permission to get on with the most promising applications of AI right now, and the Digital Strategy was still useful in restating government commitment to digital and data-driven economic growth. Commitment to GDS's role in delivering GaaP was also restated - now comprising the trio of Verify, Notify and Pay, the first two of which are being extended to local government and the private sector.


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