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27.11.15

Digital investment boost ignores local need – Socitm

The government’s decision to invest £1.8bn in digital transformation is too Whitehall-centric and is limited in its aspiration, Socitm, the professional association for IT and digital professionals working in local public services, has said. 

During the chancellor’s Spending Review it was announced that over the course of this Parliament the Government Digital Service (GDS) will receive an extra £450m investment. This is to ensure it can “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 was noted that GDS will create common platforms, for example GOV.UK Pay, which will simplify different payment systems making it easier for businesses and citizens to pay government. 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. 

But Martin Ferguson, director of policy and research at Socitm and a member of PSE’s editorial board, said: “This is limited aspiration when there are so many benefits to be derived from developing holistic, citizen-focused, digitally transformed services, co-designed and co-delivered locally. 

“The Spending Review talks about digitising services and stronger collaboration between different parts of the public sector, but there is no further detail.  The Government Digital Service is cited 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’. 

“The stated ambition is that by 2020 ‘citizens to have the option to pay online for every central government service, including passports, driving licences and motoring fees.’ There is no mention of any interest in or commitment to supporting the digital transformation of locally delivered services.” 

He added that Socitm welcomes the concept of the Common Technology Services programme, but rather than being restricted to the Civil Service, this needs to embrace local public services to support pan-government co-design and co-delivery. 

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's Improvement and Innovation Board, said the Spending Review made it even more essential that cash-strapped councils need to fully utilise digital technology to help deliver more efficient services to manage rising demand and expectations from their residents. 

“However, the Spending Review focuses on digital investment for central government departments and not on outcomes for citizens and communities,” he said. “It is a missed opportunity to continue to develop a cross government approach to shared customers, such as people needing health and social care, which can result in better services that cost less in the long run.” 

Peter Riddell, director of the Institute for Government, said there is a lot of stress on digitalising government with the ambition that by 2020 people will have the option to pay online for every central government service. 

“Funding has been increased to support these ambitious plans. Transformation will, however, require Whitehall to work in new ways as well as managing with many fewer civil servants.” 

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