However, the Government Digital Service has built GOV.UK and digitised a clutch of services, SMEs have started to challenge big incumbent suppliers, for example via G-Cloud, and there are ambitious plans to build a new ‘Government as a Platform’ model.
Here’s the good, bad and the ugly of what an incoming government will have to grapple with.
1. Universal Credit
The idea of merging six benefits into one is popular, but implementation has been a disaster, with deadlines missed, costs overrunning, unworkable IT and numerous different bosses in charge. A new digital solution is being trialled to replace existing systems. But the new government will have a big task on its hands to get the scheme under control.
A plan to set up a database of individual patients’ GP medical records, care.data was due to launch in March 2014. It ended up being put on ice, after privacy experts warned it would put personal patient data at risk. The incoming government will need to either regain citizens’ trust and roll it out more widely – or abandon it.
3. Online tax returns
In March, George Osborne promised annual paper tax returns will be replaced by individual online tax accounts for 50 million individuals and businesses by 2020. It’s a popular proposal but the short-term fixed timetable and complex integration of departments, firms’ and HMRC’s systems mean this project could go seriously awry. The minister responsible should keep a close eye on progress.
4. Police ICT Company
There is huge waste and duplication within the £1 billion spent by 43 individual police forces on technology every year. After a difficult birth, the Police ICT Company launched in March. It could save £300 million in five years by rationalising contracts, improving collaboration and driving better deals. But it badly needs more resources and support if it is to succeed.
5. Getting services online
The government needs to get its services online – as most sectors like retailers and banks did years ago. The Government Digital Service has helped to kick-start that process, but barriers remain, like arcane legislation, civil service inertia and restrictive procurement rules. The new government needs to review GDS’ role, prioritise which services should be digitised first and address those barriers.
6. Legacy IT contracts in Whitehall
The government could save £20 billion replacing long-term, expensive IT contracts by 2020, cutting IT costs by half, the Cabinet Office has said. Moving from big, single supplier deals to smaller, disaggregated contracts, will be a challenge, especially for HM Revenue & Customs’ £1 billion a year ‘Aspire’ contract with Capgemini. But the size of the prize is huge.
7. Windows XP
A number of government bodies are still running on Windows XP over a year since Microsoft stopped supporting it. The sensitive information on these machines is very vulnerable as a result. Upgrading the machines to Windows 8 or replacing them with supported versions should be a matter of priority for the incoming government.
The previous administration claimed Whitehall spending with SMEs went from 6.5 percent in 2010 to 26.1 percent last year. However just 10.3 percent was spent with SMEs directly, with the rest opaque subcontracted spend from big suppliers. SMEs say it is still too hard to work with government. There is still a lot to do to level the playing field.
9. Local digital services
Chancellor George Osborne’s budget in March said local authorities will work with GDS to try to improve digital services. There are some great examples of digitally-savvy councils but the online services residents can access vary hugely across the 433 local authorities. The next government will need to do more to facilitate sharing of knowledge, tools and standards in this sector.
10. Government as a Platform
Government as a Platform is an attractive idea of government moving away from siloed, standalone systems to shared, common platforms – for example for booking appointments or making payments. Whitehall needs to get to grips with it then transparently discuss plans, if it will build or buy these components, which standards it will use and what role suppliers will take.