Public Services

The joy of democracy

Published 21 April 2017

Public sector digital innovation may fall down the priorities of a Whitehall preoccupied with Brexit, with the digital pace being set instead by local government and healthcare bodies

By Jessica Figueras

Barring seismic new developments in the next seven weeks, we should expect the June 8 General Election to produce an increased Tory majority and a PM utterly empowered to drive her own agenda, headed by Brexit. We'd therefore recommend readers turn their attention away from the polls and towards the Tory manifesto, expected in the next three weeks.

May will almost certainly seek a mandate to leave the EU Single Market and Customs Union (a.k.a. hard Brexit), but with a transition period to soften the exit that could keep the UK de-facto inside both until 2022 or beyond.

Other manifesto promises will have to be limited in scope, as there will be little parliamentary time for non-Brexit-related legislation. But time and money can always be found for May's personal priorities - as exemplified by news of £75m in fresh funding for digital mental health innovation. More contentious May passions to watch out for include grammar schools and strict immigration targets. We'll be looking for movement on schools funding, and of course the biggie is how far May concedes to the now-deafening clamour for relief on health and social care funding.

We'll expect positive words about Industrial Strategy, of which digital is a subset nowadays. May's industrial policies largely build on structures established by the 2010 government and don't require much primary legislation, but we'll want to see decent funding commitments on skills, infrastructure and R&D.

We'll be watching tax policy with interest. May's team hasn't had time to develop sweeping proposals on taxing the gig economy, reducing the likelihood of an HMRC mega-project, but Hammond's plan to align self-employed tax rates will probably be revived. IR35 changes that have created such disruption to public sector IT contracting may well be extended to the private sector, which would level the playing field and bring relief to employers of contract labour - including HMRC itself, of course.

But on the whole, those interested in digital innovation should look beyond Brexit-preoccupied Whitehall. For the next five years at least, the digital pace will be set by local government and health. No wonder GDS is striking such a humble tone nowadays.


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