Public Services > Central Government

Put digital reform at heart of election manifestos, think tank urges

Neil Merrett Published 04 June 2014

Establishing a single local hub and adoption of a "Government as a Platform (GAAP) model" among key election opportunities


Wide scale reforms of UK digital policy, which could potentially save £24bn in public sector finances, should be at the heart of parties' campaign manifestos for next year's general election, a new report by the Policy Exchange think tank has argued.

The think tank's Technology Manifesto report , released the same day as the State Opening of Parliament, has called for all parties contesting next year's election to consider wholesale public sector adoption of a "Government as a Platform (GAAP) model" and establish a single local site to share resources.

Parliament must phase out bespoke hardware and software use within the public sector, instead favouring open standards and "standardised and interoperable building blocks" that can be locally assembled and used repeatedly, according to Policy Exchange.

The think tank has specifically called for the formation of a local hub that will bring together some 400 local authority websites in a single domain, a move it believes would help encourage wider adoption of open standards across government departments.

"Local authorities should be free to choose whether or not to use these services, but would be likely to find them available for a fraction of the cost of their current IT expenditure" the report said. "As well as saving money, this could help create a more predictable and consistent experience for citizens as they move around the country."

The think tank added that such a hub could be established through public sector managers group Socitm and supported additionally by the Local Government Association (LGA), the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

With the government estimating it has made savings to the taxpayer of £500m in 2013 alone as a result of digitised public services, as well as projecting further annual savings of £1.7bn from 2015 onwards, the report accepts there has been a significant change in the public sector approach to IT since 2010.

However, despite the formation of the Government Digital Service (GDS), the subsequent launch of the single domain and attempts to move away from large contracts towards a more agile methodology through online services like Cloudstore, further work is needed to maximise potential cost savings, according to Policy Exchange.

"On a daily basis, two lorry loads of paper are delivered to the DVLA and the Crown Prosecution Service prints one million sheets of paper. The government provides more than 770 transactional services, but around half of these do not offer any digital option at all," the report said.

"Change will be hard to achieve, but the benefits are huge. If the rate of public sector productivity growth can be accelerated to match that in comparable parts of the private sector, by 2020 a digitally transformed government could be up to 8% more efficient than if it continued doing business as usual. This could free up to £24bn a year to be spent on improving public services, expanding digital skills initiatives, or deficit reduction"

Other key recommendations in the report include:

  • Converting 150 of government's highest volume transactions - which include the 25 digital exemplars - to digital by default standard.These transactions account for 95% of all government interactions with public or business, according to report.
  • Updating civil service competency framework to ensure all government employees have "baseline" abilities in digital skills.
  • Establishing wider use of 'electronic proofs' for documents like birth and marriage certificates, educational qualifications, P60s and P45s.
  • Making electronic purchasing based on open standards the default for all government departments via a "widely adopted electronic platform".
  • Eliminating paper-based processes for interactions within and between government departments by the end of the 2015 parliament.
  • Establishing Advanced Analytics Team in the Cabinet Office to work with government departments to make use of big data beyond existing state plans.
  • Setting up independent committee to work on data ethics issues to adress new methods for collecting information.
  • Requiring public sector bodies to audit and declare non-personal datasets and create an information marketplace where data can be provided to government by the public or businesses.

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