‘Painfully slow’ digital transformation in Whitehall needs greater Treasury backing, says IfG

A new digital minister is also needed to provide political leadership for reform drive, says think tank


By Suzannah.Brecknell

21 Jun 2017

The Treasury must lead improvements to digital processes and services reform across Whitehall to speed up the ‘painfully slow’ pace of change, the Institute for Government has said.

In a review looking at the progress in digital government, the think tank said the finance ministry needed to ease the funding challenges which prevent cross-departmental working. 

The report also recommended that Theresa May appoint a new minister for digital government to lead improvements of digital processes and services.


Daniel Thornton, programme director at the IfG and a co-author of the report, said: “The recent cyber-attack on the NHS shows that the government must urgently improve digital government.”

As well as minister for digital government, Thornton set out proposals for the Treasury to help by providing additional funds.

“At present, it is very difficult for business cases for spending, which require Treasury approval, to be developed across more than one Whitehall department. Our interviewees identified this as a major barrier,” the report stated.

It recommends the Treasury should work with the Government Digital Service to “consider which life events, such as registering a birth or selling a house, could benefit from new services, and fund their development”.

Thornton added that a minister for digital government to lead improvements of digital processes and services.

“What is clear is that progress on digital government continues to be painfully slow,” he said. “GDS standards have been effective but need to be clarified and extended so that public services can be securely organised around the needs of citizens.”

The report noted that there has been “limited visible political leadership for digital government” in recent years, but the Conservative Party’s 2017 manifesto does set out clear digital goals. 

“It is more likely that they will be achieved if there is sustained attention from at least one minister,” the report said. “If the past year is a reliable guide, the newly appointed First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Damian Green, will be preoccupied with Brexit.”

Alongside this focus, the report calls for greater prioritisation of work around digital government, and a clear implementation plan to improve accountability for the reform of key process and services.

The IfG notes that the Government Transformation Strategy does not set out clear priorities for digital reform, and does not consider how trade-offs may be made between the 17 services which it says will be made digitally accessible by 2020.

“Brexit makes it even more important that prioritisation of improvements to digital services is done properly,” the report says.

It suggests that leaders should consider prioritising on “key services to manage Brexit, to avoid burdening residents and businesses with paperwork and imposing costs on the economy as a result of bureaucratic delays.” 

The IfG also makes a number of specific recommendations to change the way GDS operates, for example the creation of a sector store for APIs which would encourage greater use and re-use of these tools across the public sector. 

The Institute wants greater clarity about the roles of the GOV.UK Verify and Government Gateway programmes – which both aim to provide secure identity verification – and improved management of the Digital Marketplace – and for the Treasury to review charges for data sharing within government, putting in place a new system which would incentivise better data sharing across the public sector.  


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