Digital Government Contents


Digital Government in the UK

1.The UK Government Digital Service (GDS) was created in March 2011 to sit within the Cabinet Office. It was created to implement the then Government’s “digital by default” strategy, which had been proposed by the 2010 Report Directgov Strategic Review, requested by the Permanent Secretary of Government Communications and the Digital Champion’s team.1 Martha Lane Fox, the Government Digital Champion (2009–2013) and co-founder of, used that Report to inform her review of DirectGov. Her accompanying letter to the Report, Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution, recommended a “radical overhaul” of the Government’s online services to make it fit for purpose of the requirements of the citizen and the State.2 The core purposes of GDS, as set out in the 2012 Cabinet Office Report Government Digital Strategy, were to:

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is just one part of the UK’s digital Government ecosystem. Another big component is the Government’s website, GOV.UK. The public sector information website, GOV.UK, was formally launched in October 2012, officially replacing Directgov and Business Link, as the new online platform for Government departments and public bodies. Now, all 25 ministerial and 20 non-ministerial departments, as well as 406 other public sector organisations, such as the Council for Science and Technology, make use of GOV.UK.4

2.In 2017, the UK Government announced its intentions to transform its operations in the Government Transformation Strategy, which sought to:

The benefits that the Government could achieve for the citizen with this new approach were:

In this Report we will consider the extent to which these aims have been achieved.

How does the UK digital Government perform internationally?

3.In 2018, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) emphasised the importance of Governments across the world harnessing digital technologies in order to adjust to the “changing expectations and needs” of modern societies.7 In practice, meaning that their services were digital by design, data-driven, user-driven and proactive in policy making.8 They set out the power of digital to transform Government services and to put the citizen at the heart of what the Government does:

This transformation requires governments to take a user-driven approach, empowering citizens and business to interact and collaborate with the public sector to determine and address their own needs.9

4.The UK Government has generally been placed in the top five in the United Nations e-Government survey, in which three qualities are measured:

In 2016 the UK was ranked number one in this survey, but fell to fourth behind Denmark, Australia and South Korea in 2018. This decline in rankings was anticipated in a March 2017 NAO Report, Digital Transformation in Government, which identified areas where progress had slowed. For example, it attributed the low uptake of GOV Verify by departments to an overall slower adoption of Government services.11 This issue will be explored further at paragraph 20. Further, in June 2017, a Report from the Institute for Government, an independent think tank looking at how to make the Government more effective, found that “the spread of new digital services for the public had been slower than planned” and that a cyber-attack that hit the NHS demonstrated “the fragility of some of the systems being used in the public sector”.12 Consequently, we decided to launch an inquiry to assess the extent to which UK digital Government had resulted in transformative change; saved public money; increased trust between the citizen and the state; and optimised service delivery to citizens.

Our inquiry

5.We launched a call for written submissions in July 2018. We sought submissions that addressed the following terms of reference:

6.We received 30 written submissions from a variety of sources, including Government departments, members of the public, technology companies, universities and data rights groups. We held four oral evidence sessions, including evidence from the then Director General of the Government Digital Service, Ministers, academics and technology experts from the private sector. The evidence that we received is available on our website.

7.In addition, we held a roundtable event with GovTech small-medium enterprises and start-ups (see Annex one), where we heard their perspectives and experiences of Government technology procurement frameworks. We had been hoping to visit Estonia but due to the uncertainty of UK parliamentary business in the Spring, this was not possible. Instead, the Chair had a private meeting with the Estonian Ambassador and a representative from the e-Estonia showroom to discuss Estonian digital successes (see Annex two). The Chair also met with HMRC’s Chief Digital and Information Officer, Jacky Wright, to discuss the work that HMRC had undertaken to digitise (see Annex three). To further assist with our inquiry, we appointed Dr Jerry Fishenden, visiting Professor at the University of Surrey, as a Specialist Adviser for this inquiry.13 We are grateful to all those who contributed to our inquiry.

Aims of this Report

8.In this Report we make recommendations relating to what the Government should do to ensure that it takes full advantage of the opportunities that arise from digitisation. Specifically:

1 Transform, Directgov Strategic Review, (September 2010)

2 Martha Lane Fox, Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution, (October 2010)

3 Cabinet Office, Government Digital Strategy, (November 2012)

4 GOV.UK, “Departments, agencies and public bodies, accessed 3 July 2019

5 The Cabinet Office, Government Transformation Strategy, February 2017

6 The Cabinet Office, Government Transformation Strategy, February 2017

8 OECD, “Strengthening Digital Governments” OECD Going Digital Policy Note, 2018

10 United Nations, “e-Government Survey 2018”, July 2018

11 National Audit Office, “Digital transformation in Government”, (March 2017), p 11

12 Institute for Government, “Improving the management of digital government”, (March 2017), p 2

13 Dr Jerry Fishenden declared his interests on Tuesday 13 November 2018

Published: 10 July 2019