Photo credit: Cabinet Office
The next government must create a new minister for digital government to lead on its transformation strategy and ensure changes are driven across Whitehall, the Institute for Government has said.
In a blog post, the IfG’s programme director Daniel Thornton said since the departure of Lord (Francis) Maude from the Cabinet office in 2015, the digitisation drive had stalled across Whitehall.
Maude’s five years at the Cabinet Office saw the creation of the Government Digital Service and a number of milestones reached around improved technology use in Whitehall, including the creation of the GOV.UK website and the digitisation of voter registration, Thornton pointed out.
“As minister for the Cabinet Office from 2010-2015, Lord (Francis) Maude provided visible political leadership for digital government. After his departure, and for the past two years, there has been a lack of political leadership for digital government from the centre of Whitehall,” Thornton wrote.
Although the government has set out a Transformation Strategy in February that aims to encourage a digital culture change in Whitehall, Thornton said there has been no prioritisation of the aims in the plan, which would require increased political leadership.
“Big decisions, such as about which system to use for verifying citizens’ identity across government, have been ducked. Unlike their predecessors, Theresa May and chancellor Philip Hammond have not spoken about digital government. Together with comments by Amber Rudd about “necessary hashtags,” it seems that senior ministers are not taking a keen interest in digital government.”
He highlighted that such political disengagement had consequences for services, such as the impact of last month’s WannaCry ransomware attack on the NHS, which could have been avoided with more up-to-date technology.
Although there has also been some progress in online services, with examples also included online payments for car tax, Thornton said there remained much more to be done to implement the Transformation Strategy, which required the creation of a dedicated minister.
“People are used to steady improvements in how they search for information, shop and bank online,” he said. “These improvements are provided by companies that have embraced digital technology and new ways of working. Government needs to do the same.”