Public Services

Where are the key digital details in government transformation plan?

Published 24 February 2017

Despite seeing some positives on data registers, GD Public Sector's Rob Anderson questions the lack of concrete plans for meeting the more ambitious aims of the Government Transformation Strategy

By Rob Anderson

Whitehall's long-awaited Government Transformation Strategy finally arrived earlier this month, including commentary on the continuing role of GDS and the vision for digital government. Yet would it not have been more appropriate to publish a week earlier on February 2nd, Groundhog Day? It does seem mostly to be a restatement of established policies and plans after all.

For all the laudable aspirations of growing the use of GaaP technologies, there is a distinct lack of detail on how GDS will coerce departments into working together toward a common goal, or how they will deliver the planned growth in usage of GOV.UK Verify by 2,200% over the next three years. The document suggests local government might be an avenue for it to grow use to 25 million people by 2020, so it wouldn't harm Verify-experienced suppliers to start knocking on the doors of the largest spending councils.

Monolithic outsourcing contracts are dead; we already knew that, but it is reiterated here. Nonetheless, GlobalData's recently published market sizing figures suggest that this has not delivered savings promised in the days of Maude, Kelly & Crothers. Indeed, the reduction in revenues flowing out to the big SIs is outweighed by a £250m increase in the wage bill for IT staff across the whole public sector.

With this in mind, perhaps there is a new emphasis on people rather than technology in the strategy, with Digital Academies and leadership programmes much vaunted. However, the document fails to acknowledge the scale of the skills chasm that exists, nor does it address how this will be overcome. HMRC and DWP may have the clout to spin off GovCos to recruit digital talent, but the same can't be said for the plethora of other agencies wrestling with similar transformation issues. With the impact of changes in IR35 regulation and the potential for a Brexit-fuelled exit of skilled European resource yet to kick in, competition for personnel to deliver the brave new world will get ever more difficult.

There was also a certain déjà vu about the words Ben Gummer, Minister for the Cabinet Office, chose in announcing the strategy: "the imperative is to change and to do so at pace and at scale" - a favourite phrase of one Francis Maude if we recall correctly, first voiced around 2011. Whilst the rhetoric around large IT suppliers has softened since then, there is little evidence yet of a real willingness to share risk with the private sector organisations that have delivered transformation in other sectors.

Maybe we should end with a focus on the positives - data. Data registers, data sharing, data exploitation - the nirvana for the innovative new economy companies. There are big plans for government to finally use analytics to drive a step-change in public service delivery, albeit with big challenges too.





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