Government should go paperless, says Policy Exchange

The government should ditch paper altogether and rely on digital technology - unless face-to-face interaction is absolutely necessary for public service delivery - a report by think-tank Policy Exchange argues today.

By Winnie.Agbonlahor

02 Sep 2013

The study ‘Smaller, Better, Faster, Stronger’ says that Whitehall is wasting large sums of money by relying on paper-based public services and calls on “root and branch digitisation of government activity”.

While it welcomes government initiatives such as the ICT and digital strategies, it calls for a move “from digital-by-default to digital, full stop” by 2020, adding that government should eliminate paper for interactions within and between departments, and switch exclusively to digital channels for public services that do not need a face-to-face interaction with the public.

It argues that more digital, data and scientific literacy skills should be incorporated into the next iteration of the civil service competency framework, the think tank believes - a move that should be “backed up with investment in high-quality training and development”.

Policy Exchange calls for a “double lock on policies that are not testable by default”, meaning that any policy that does not specify how its success can be tested should require authorisation from both the minister responsible and the departmental accounting officer.

It also says that government should publish more data and move “from open data as a fringe activity to total data as the guiding philosophy”.

The proposed changes mark a “wholesale reorientation of the way government is run”, according to the report, which says that “by 2020 a digitally transformed government could be up to 8% more effective than if it continued doing business as usual”. This could “free up £24 billion a year to be spent on a combination of public service expansion and/or deficit reduction”.

Chris Yiu, author of the report, said: "Government is changing, but the world around it is changing faster. With the internet all around us, it's reasonable to expect government to embrace digital.

“Our public leaders need to rise to the challenge, or risk a chasm between new and old tearing the whole system apart."

Mike Bracken, executive director at the Government Digital Service (GDS), said "huge progress” has been made since setting up GDS, but added that “there is still significant potential to drive digital into everything the government does”.

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