Government launches digital framework as MPs raise concerns over digital agenda

The government is calling for agile SMEs to sign up to a newly launched digital services framework on the same day that MPs have raised concerns over the digital-by-default agenda.


The government is calling for agile SMEs to sign up to a newly launched digital services framework on the same day that MPs have raised concerns over the digital-by-default agenda.

It is hoped that the new framework will continue to help the government move away from legacy IT and big contracts with a few large systems integrators – commonly known as ‘the oligopoly' – as well as help save billions of pounds in years to come.

However, the announcement coincides with a letter sent by the Science and Technology Committee to Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, which raises questions about the potential savings promised by the digital agenda and its implications for personal data security.

The government has previously said that by making transactions that are carried out by the public every day digital could save the government up to £1.7 billion a year after 2015.

The Science and Technology Committee wants the government to be clearer about these savings, including the costs of designing, or redesigning, online services.

“A key justification of the Digital by Default strategy is savings to the taxpayer. Yet it is not evident that the Government is even able to measure these savings,” said Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Select Committee.

The Committee also raised doubts that as public services go online, the government may not be able to keep up with advances in technology and the inadequacies in government software may lead to security vulnerabilities. There is also a risk that third party suppliers providing identity assurance could pass on their security vulnerabilities.

“Public trust is absolutely essential. The Government must ensure the integrity and security of data and give people sufficient control over their stored personal information otherwise, the Digital by Default strategy will not succeed. We will continue to monitor the implementation of the strategy,” said Miller.

The Committee would like to see the government add a principle to its recently published draft identity assurance principles that states that (i) if a dispute arises concerning a citizen’s online dataset, that the citizen should be initially presumed correct; and (ii) if a mistake has been made, the citizen’s data should be instantly corrected.

However, the Cabinet Office has said that the Digital Services Framework that launched today should be a “signal for innovative firms of all sizes to apply to join a framework of suppliers that can bid for government contracts to provide digital project build services across the UK”.

It added that the framework “represents a new approach for government in terms of speed, simplicity, and clarity”.

The framework will be offered as a managed service to central government departments and suppliers have until 7th August to apply to be signed up.

It is the first framework to be announced since the review of technology frameworks at the end of 2012, where the Cabinet Office said it would be creating fewer going forward. However, Computerworld UK reported earlier this year that it was aware of the Digital Services Framework, where it was thought that it could be worth up to £100 million. 

“To deliver the efficient and responsive public services that users demand, we must ensure that government has access to the most innovative and cost-effective digital solutions,” said Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude.

“Often, these services will be provided by smaller firms that in the past have been locked out of public sector business by complex and expensive pre-qualification requirements. The Digital Services Framework is an example of government procurement that is faster, simpler and easier to do business with.”

He added: “We want to have a highly competitive market, access to innovation, and to drive growth by working with businesses of all sizes. That’s how we will deliver world-leading digital public services and build a stronger economy.”

The government also said that the framework contrasts with, but complements, the already live G-Cloud frameworks – where this new one will cover bespoke digital solution development, rather than commoditised IT services.

Like the G-Cloud, the Digital Services framework agreement will be refreshed every six to 12 months to ensure access to the latest innovations and a widening range of suppliers (SMEs).

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