Government digital leaders admit reform has barely begun

The government has barely started to tackle digital reform in Whitehall, GDS director Mike Bracken has said.

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Government digital leaders have admitted they have scarcely scratched the surface of reforms to Whitehall’s technology and digital services.

Much of the work undertaken by the Government Digital Service (GDS) in this Parliament so far has been “remedial” and focused on “demonstrating the basics” of what reform can achieve, according to government digital director Mike Bracken.

Speaking at the government Sprint 15 conference, Bracken highlighted the things GDS has achieved, including the development of new online services for carer’s allowance applications, renewing car tax and applying for lasting power of attorney.

However he admitted: “Changing services one at a time will not deliver the changes or the savings we need quickly enough.”

The task in the next Parliament will be to start building common platforms to be used across Whitehall, for example for booking appointments, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude explained at the event.

“From early in the next Parliament we will start to develop common platforms for booking appointments, payments and messaging,” Maude, who is resigning in May, said.

30 common platforms to go

The government has already built a number of common platforms across Whitehall, like GOV.UK for publishing, GOV.UK Verify for identity assurance and the digital marketplace for buying technology, Bracken said.

But GDS believes there are “another 30” common platforms it can build. These include status tracking for applications, plus an address and contact details platform so citizens’ information can be updated for all of government once.

“It is illegal for government to ask citizens for the same information more than once in Estonia...we have no time for siloed thinking anywhere,” Bracken said.

These platforms will be shared across all central government departments, thus reducing duplication, cutting costs and ensuring a better, more consistent user experience, he said.

The government plans to appoint a chief data officer in the next Parliament to define standards and encourage data sharing, “though we need to build data into all of our jobs”, Bracken added.

In December the government said it wants 90 percent of the online public to be using digital public services by 2020. It hopes this, combined with the move to a “government as a platform” model explained at Sprint 15, will help to cut up to £30 billion off the government budget during the next Parliament.

Maude, who has served as Cabinet Office minister since 2010, announced last weekend that he plans to stand down as an MP at the next general election in May.

During his time as minister, Maude set up the GDS, introduced reforms to cut and improve ICT spending and led work across Whitehall to digitise public services.

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