Public Services > Central Government

Whitehall digital plans could deliver £1.7bn a year savings

David Bicknell Published 06 November 2012

Seven departments handling central government service transactions will be first to start redesigning services.

The Cabinet Office has published details of how it plans to save billions of pounds through greater digitisation of transactions that further the government's agenda of making services 'digital by default.'

Through the publication of the Government Digital Strategy and Digital Efficiency report, the government laid out how it can make up to £1.2 billion worth of savings by 2015 simply by making everyday transactions digital. By making it easier for people to do things like pay their car tax, book driving tests, complete tax returns, or apply for their state pension online, the Cabinet Office estimates that it could deliver £1.7 billion a year in savings beyond 2015.

Currently the government handles over a billion different transactions every year through 650 different services. However, many of these transactions do not yet have digital options, and they will need to be created. Those digital options that do exist are often underutilised and so will need redesigning. The strategy sets out how government will make digital services so good that they will become the preferred option.

The strategy also sets out plans to improve digital skills across the Civil Service, which the government admits have been lacking. All departments will now need to have a digital leader on their executive boards.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, said: "Britain is in a global race and that's why we need to have modern, efficient, digital-by-default public services that are fit for the 21st century.

"Building world-class government digital services will take time but the publication of this strategy just a fortnight after the launch of gov.uk is an important milestone. Digital services are much more convenient because they can be accessed whenever you want them. They are also much more efficient, saving taxpayers' money and the user's time. Online transactions can be 20 times cheaper than by phone, 30 times cheaper than face-to-face, and up to 50 times cheaper than by post."

Seven Whitehall departments that handle the majority of central government service transactions will be the first to start redesigning their services. By the end of 2012, each of these departments will identify three significant services, with over 100,000 transactions a year, for digital transformation. Additionally, all new or redesigned transactional services going live after April 2014 from any department will also have to meet a new 'digital-by-default' service standard.

The publication of the strategy follows the launch last month of a single domain for government, GOV.UK, which makes accessing government information simpler, clearer and faster for citizens and business.

Mike Bracken, executive director, Government Digital Service, said: "This is a further example of the Civil Service Reform programme in action, where officials are embracing the best of what the web has to offer and radically changing their working practices to meet the challenges and opportunities inherent in digital by default.

"This is the first time that the Government has produced a strategy in this way, a truly digital document which reflects our ambitions and signals a clear roadmap for working with departments to help them achieve the goals set out in this strategy."

According to the government, the "size of the prize" from bringing transactional services offered by central government online is considerable.

"On the basis of historic data looking at the savings already achieved by existing digital services over offline alternatives, this report estimates that between £1.7 billion and £1.8 billion could be realised as total annual savings to the government and service users.

The savings made from greater digitisation of transactions, including their back-end processes, can be achieved whilst maintaining and ultimately improving service quality."

Savings, the report says, are likely to come from four key areas: the reduced staff time involved in processing digital transactions compared to offline alternatives; estates and accommodation; postage, packaging and materials; and the costs of supporting IT systems. However, they will not be made evenly across departments, the report adds.

"Some departments are responsible for more services - and more individual transactions - than others. Some have digitised their services more comprehensively to date. Some of these savings may already have been accounted for in departments' plans. And some services will require a greater investment of time, effort and money to fully realise the benefits of digitisation."

The report also makes it clear that building 'world-class government digital services' will take time to achieve but may make an impact during this Parliament. It estimates that approximately £1.2 billion of savings could be created during the current spending review period.

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