Shaping the Smarter State

Source: PSE Aug/Sept 2017

Rob Driver, head of public sector at techUK, outlines how central and local government can fully embrace the transformational power of digital technology to deliver the promise of the ‘Smarter State’.

The last decade has seen an increased understanding of the importance of digital transformation within government in order to protect and improve our public services amid rising public sector debt and demands on usage. The latest Fiscal sustainability report from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) suggests that, all things being equal, public sector net debt will rise to 234% of GDP in 50 years.

This unsustainable upward trajectory is exacerbated by an ageing population and the increased pressure that this will put on pensions, health, social care and other public services. The only way to protect front-end service delivery in this context is by reinventing our public services through radically improving efficiency and outcomes.

The question is: how can government fully embrace the transformational power of digital to place tech at the heart of public service delivery?

For central and local government, there are three key areas that policymakers and public sector digital leaders should have at the forefront of their mind to deliver the promise of the ‘Smarter State’:

  • Procuring for innovation and growth: The government has committed to 33% of central government purchasing to come from SMEs, which will enable it to use its buying power to encourage the development of innovative technology. To achieve this, changes must be made to develop simple and accessible procurement processes – building on the successes of the Digital Marketplace, and G-Cloud in particular, to expand the number of SME suppliers used by public services. The government should expand the use of the Digital Marketplace by doubling the number of non-Whitehall parts of the public sector using the system in procurement processes. This will allow it to exploit its spending power to open up public procurement to innovative small firms.


  • Unlocking the next wave of digital transformation: A single, trusted log-in platform across all public services is critical for delivering a government that is ‘digital by default’ and will be a fundamental component of unlocking the next wave of digital transformation. Encouragingly, the Government Transformation Strategy has committed to working towards 25 million users of Verify by 2020 – a commitment that echoes techUK’s call to refresh Verify, with a clearly defined strategy for its roll-out across central and local government, and outline how it will interact with Government Gateway. Without this single log-in platform across all government services, users of services (including both citizens and businesses) must rely on fragmented digital identification processes across the range of services they are using or engage by post, phone or in person.
  • Adopting a ‘digital first’ mindset to devolution: Supporting local government to understand digital best practice and making digital a core part of future devolution deals will be key to shaping the Smarter State. techUK’s ‘Digital Devolution: Guide for Mayors’ encourages mayors to embrace digital transformation by setting out what it can do for their administrations. Local government should be supported to understand digital best practice, and should put in place the leadership to deliver real change and better outcomes. Introducing a ‘Digital Devolution Dividend’, a £350m fund to match any metro mayor investment in a chief digital officer and city region digital strategies, will help encourage action from local government.

Progress has been made over the last decade to build a public sector that is ‘digital by default’ and able to adapt to new technologies. This is evidenced through an increased understanding within government of the importance of driving digital transformation. The progress so far is a good indicator of what is to come.

The UK has a phenomenal opportunity to lead the world in the next wave of digital government transformation, creating a Smarter State that truly meets the needs of the public. However, government will only be able to deliver the promise of the Smarter State by embracing new transformational approaches and harnessing a competitive supplier landscape.


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