Public Services > Central Government

Labour wants to create 'new digital machinery of government'

David Bicknell Published 28 November 2014

Cruddas plans digital redesign of government, including "breaking out of Whitehall" and creating 'federated' or 'networked' government


Labour Party policy review head Jon Cruddas is planning a shake up the machinery of government, using digital technology to "break down silos" and "break out of Whitehall."

Although Labour's digital government review at the start of the week will help inform its key digital polices ahead of next year's General Election, Cruddas's speech to the Institute for Government yesterday arguably went further, signalling the prospect of local city hubs responsible for the machinery of government.

In the wake of a devolutionary shift - the latest example of which was the publication of the Smith Commission report yesterday (Nov 27) - Cruddas argued that for devolution to really work, "We need big change in Westminster and Whitehall. Renewing the United Kingdom will require a new model state for democracy and innovation. I don't mean just bolting onto the existing one. I mean let's build an entire new digital machinery of government alongside the existing state so that we can create an efficient system and transform the relationship between the citizen and the state. Digital technology provides us with the practical means."

Cruddas said that all developed economies would have no choice but to reinvent themselves to become fully digital.

"Over the next few years our largest government IT contracts will come to an end; if we want better public services and a more responsive, efficient state and substantial cost savings, this is the way to go," he said. "How do we start? Francis Maude and the Government Digital Service (GDS) have already made a start."

Cruddas argued that the need to break down silos meant breaking out of Whitehall, and he suggested instead of thinking about 'local or national', or 'centralised or decentralised', there is a need to think of 'federated' or 'networked' government.

He said, "The Government Digital Service (GDS) can foster a distributed network of peer institutions in our cities, networked together to become greater than the sum of their parts.

"Our cities were at the heart of the first industrial revolution, and they will drive the digital revolution. GDS city nodes will focus on transforming services in their city regions, but they could also specialise in one aspect of a new distributed UK government platform on behalf of the nation.

He suggested, "For example, Birmingham could run the pan-UK digital platform for social care, Manchester planning, Swansea motoring, Newcastle tax, Liverpool pensions. Already there are examples of collaborative procurement using this hub and spoke model. GDS, Crown Commercial Services and the Commissioning Academy can provide support. Improving services will mean that the people running them - the ministers, senior civil servants and Permanent Secretaries - will need to be close to deliverers and users.

"In the pre-digital era we needed departments in Whitehall because we moved files around on trolleys. We don't now, which means we can bring government closer to the people. Building government as a network means also introducing shared platforms for local government for collaboration of local services and agencies, and data sharing.

He added that, "Digital government is do-able," arguing that it offered big savings in operational expenditure, made services simpler, allowed people to feed back on services quickly and simply and created people power, and could transform government silos into platforms."

Key elements of Cruddas's speech

1. Big savings in operational expenditure.

Digital government is cheaper government.
It will cost a fraction of the up to £7bn a year we spend just running our current IT system.
The new G-Cloud procurement system is levelling the playing field for 1000 smaller suppliers. It has already made 50 per cent savings on IT purchases. The £80 million government spent with the six big foreign IT suppliers in a single week in 2013 compares to £87 million spent with 270 firms through G-Cloud over the entire year.
One example: DCMS has used an open source UK SME, and cut its intranet cost by 90 per cent.

2. Serving the needs of the public, not the convenience of government.

Digital makes services simpler.
The new Individual Electoral Registration has a 92 per cent user satisfaction rate, with most finishing in under 3 minutes.
The new prison visitors online booking system gives a choice of three potential dates when you can visit a prisoner. Most people book a slot from a smart phone.
And digital creates new services like changing address, offsetting tax/benefits, and real time VAT.

3. Speeding up the policy feedback loop.

Digital allows people to feed back on services quickly and simply.
It makes sure their voices are heard and it provides an incentive for staff to improve.
For example the organisation Patient Opinion allows people to tell their story - good or bad - about their local health service.
And it is about to launch Care Opinion which will give carers a voice and the chance to share experiences.
This is people power which can hold services to account and create real-time improvements cutting down on the huge costs of failure demand.
And staff gain too.
Fareham Council, working with John Seddon, has just given their staff a pay rise based on savings created by system redesign and reducing failure demand.

4. Digital can create people power.

It can bring people together so that they can build new friendships and new communities, and make their voices heard.
There are countless groups like Carer watch , the Able Here Community website, Nottingham's Circle for older citizens, and Leicester's Community Arthritis Self Help, who provide a digital lifeline of friendship and community to people who might be feeling isolated and powerless.
And it works for the staff of services. Patchwork set up by Dominic Campbell allows professionals working in child protection to keep in touch. Individuals and agencies working on the same case are joined up and communicating.

5. Transforming government silos into platforms.

Silos are hierarchical, inward looking, and closed bureaucracies. Platforms are core digital infrastructures that provide standardisation and open data for innovation and the integration of new policies and services.
Gov.UK is a platform for all government with 6-8000 people publishing on it. Changing policy does not require the kind of multi-billion pound overhaul created by the introduction of Universal Credit.
Government takes the shape of a network of platforms rather than a bundle of individual silos. Better communication, more collaboration and sharing of data between services, more efficient, and simpler for people to use.

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