Digital strategy makes seven departments rebuild digital services

The seven departments with the biggest online services must start redesigning their transaction systems by April 2013 – improving service quality, and ensuring that websites meet a new set of standards – while all other departments must publish a basic plan by the end of December to move their services to a “digital by default basis”, the government announced in its digital strategy last week. It also said that departments must ensure that people without access to the internet can continue to use public services.

By Joshua.Chambers

15 Nov 2012

The seven departments that handle the most online transactions – HMRC, the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, and the departments for transport, work and pensions, business and environment – will start redeveloping three services each in April 2013, with a completion deadline of March 2015.

The strategy claims that £1.2bn will be saved by 2015 by moving departmental transaction services online. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said at the launch of the strategy that “online transactions can be 20 times cheaper than by phone [or] face-to-face, and up to 50 times cheaper than by post.”

The Cabinet Office will set out a new standard for all government digital services by April 2013, which will require them to be run by a “skilled service manager”, revised at least monthly based on feedback and analytics, and easily accessible via mobile phones. They will have to use common technology platforms, and allow integration with third parties.

Departments must also appoint someone at board level as a “digital leader”: they will act as a single point of interaction with the Government Digital Service (GDS), and oversee the publication and delivery of departmental digital strategies.

The GDS, headed by Mike Bracken, will develop “extensive bespoke training and support for service managers”, the strategy says, and provide guidance on request about effective approaches to recruiting digital specialists. It will also work with Civil Service Learning to develop digital awareness training programmes for civil servants.

The strategy stipulates that departments must support people who are unable to access online services. It reveals that 41 per cent of people over 65, and 28 per cent of disabled people, are not online. The GDS will work with departments to agree a cross-government approach to helping these people continue to access services, with a strategy being published in December.

Writing in CSW, Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK, said: “We urge the government to continue to ensure that offline methods to access government services remain in place”.

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