Chancellor George Osborne today confounded expectations by almost doubling the annual budget for the Government Digital Service (GDS).
In today’s Spending Review, Osborne said that the GDS would receive £450m over the period of the review, equating to an average of £125m a year – well up from this year’s budget of £58m.
The departure of a number of senior staff, including former executive director Mike Bracken in September, had led to speculation that the GDS had lost support within government and was set to be scaled down.
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However, the Spending Review document released alongside the review today said: “The Government Digital Service will continue to act as the digital, data and technology centre for government, supporting departments as they transform their business operations, setting best practice and ensuring quality of services.”
It is as yet unclear what the new cash will mean for the size of the department. Currently GDS has 425 full time staff and 210 contractors. GDS appears to have won support for a number of business cases it prepared in advance of the general election for a range of new platforms and processes.
The Treasury said: “A new way of delivering digital services, Government As A Platform (GaaP), will provide a common set of core systems that enable government departments to share digital services, technology and processes.”
Speaking in March, former government deputy chief technology officer Magnus Falk said: “The success of Gov.uk and other platforms gives us a hint that we can go deeper and faster."
“Digital transformation can be increased through GaaP. Proving the value and the reality is the work in process”
A Treasury spokesperson confirmed that this work had informed today’s announcement. They cited one example of GaaP – the proposed GOV.UK Pay system, which is aimed at simplifying the process of paying fees to government.
They added: “By 2020 the government’s ambition is for citizens to have the option to pay online for every central government service, including passports, driving licences and motoring fees.”
The Treasury also confirmed that GDS will continue work on a Common Technology Services programme to allow the civil service to standardise ICT purchasing, and the development of the common user identification service Verify.
Today’s Spending Review Statement document mentioned the word “digital” 57 times, compared to just four times in its 2010 equivalent.
Peter Riddell, director at the Institute of Government, said: "There is a lot of stress on digitalising government... Transformation will, however, require Whitehall to work in new ways as well as managing with many fewer civil servants.”
Georgina O’Toole, research director at digital research company Tech Market View, said: “It is very hard to understand the amount of savings the government will be able to achieve through GaaP.
“In the past, some government departments and agencies have resisted similar moves, and the new systems need to integrate with legacy systems.”