New Transformation Strategy is weak on commitments, warns Institute for Government

Think tank says long-awaited vision has no detail on resource allocation and a telling absence of public support from prime minister Theresa May and chancellor Philip Hammond

By Jim Dunton

13 Feb 2017

The Cabinet Office’s long-awaited vision for driving savings and service improvements with digital technology lacks crucial elements necessary to realise its goals, the Institute for Government has warned.

IfG programme director Daniel Thornton said that while the Government Transformation Strategy – launched last week by Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer – was a “substantial description” of what could be achieved, it was light on key issues such as resource-allocation and service targets.

Thornton said that measured against criteria for success set by the IfG for the strategy last year, the published version scored two out of five, or 40%.

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He said a good strategy set a measurable baseline against which progress towards the vision could be measured, but the baseline for the transformation strategy was “not very clear”.

Thornton said that while targets for online passport applications, 2021 Census returns, and users of GOV.UK Verify had been set, they were small in number in comparison to those that would be required to realise the transformation of 17 services referred to in the strategy.

He added that while the strategy’s broad priorities – such as a central focus on the transformation of organisations and processes, and the development of in-house skills – were in line with IfG research, there was little detail on specifics, such as “exiting large, single supplier and multi-year IT contracts”.

Thornton said the strategy had no information on how resources would be allocated, including the £450m announced by former chancellor George Osborne in 2015, adding that a key issue would be the extent to which the Treasury funded cross-government work to join up services for citizens.

“Although the strategy provides a substantial analysis and description, and indeed makes a credible case for transformation, government produces a lot of strategies,” he said. 

“Some of them actually do have a lasting impact, but those that don’t tend to be high on aspiration and low on specifics.

“Momentum needs to be maintained and the strategy needs cross-government support at secretary of state level – otherwise this risks ending up on the pile of unrealised government strategies.

“In order to succeed, this strategy needs the public support of the prime minister and the chancellor – both of whom continue to remain silent on the issue.”

Thornton said that while the strategy had provided a “reasonable description” of the role of the Government Digital Service, there was still a lack of clarity about its responsibilities in relation to spending controls.

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