Digital Government Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Government digitisation

1.The open-ended definition of “digital” has meant that it is hard to assess the full scale of any progress that the UK Government has made with its digitisation agenda. We believe that Government digitisation should be defined as transforming how services are delivered so that the relationship between the citizen and the State is enhanced. The Government should adopt this definition and set out metrics of success. Departments and associated Agencies should be required to publicly report against these metrics on an annual basis, starting from the financial year 2020/21, highlighting areas of success and areas for improvement. The Cabinet Office should be responsible for overseeing departments’ action plans in response to this annual publication. (Paragraph 15)

2.Single unique identifiers for citizens can transform the efficiency and transparency of Government services. We welcome the Government’s announcement in June 2019 that it will consult shortly on digital identity. While we recognise that in the UK there are concerns about some of the features of a single unique identifier, as demonstrated by the public reaction to the 2006 Identity Card Act, we believe that the Government should recognise the value of consistent identity verification. The Government should facilitate a national debate on single unique identifiers for citizens to use for accessing public services along with the right of the citizen to know exactly what the Government is doing with their data. (Paragraph 34)

3.While we believe it is important for the Government to make its services end-to-end digital, it must do this in such a way that it includes access to public services for those who are not digitally connected. The Government must ensure that public spaces with digital access, such as libraries, are maintained. The Government must ensure that public spaces with digital access, such as libraries, are maintained. The Government should also ensure that those who are not digitally connected have alternative ways of accessing services, for example, by using the phone or having assistance to use digital services, and those alternatives are properly promoted. (Paragraph 36)

Levers for transformation

4.Data-sharing is key to ensuring that digital Government can be transformative. It enables departments to work together to produce efficient public services that work for the citizen, thus improving the citizen-Government relationship. We welcome that the Government has commenced phase one of developing its National Data Strategy. As part of this process to inform the content of the National Data Strategy, DCMS should conduct an audit of data-sharing amongst Government departments to see where best practice is taking place, and identify which departments are particularly siloed. Further, the audit should also determine to what extent the initial recommendations by Martha Lane Fox were adopted. This audit should be completed and published in advance of the National Data Strategy being published in Winter 2020 so that its findings can inform the National Data Strategy. (Paragraph 46)

5.We welcome the Government’s establishment of a Data Advisory Board. However, at present its membership, agenda and decisions are not a matter of public record. In response to this Report, the Government should set out how it will make the work of the Data Advisory Board more transparent. It should make public its membership, agenda and a summary of its decisions. If the Government decide that it is not possible to make the Board more transparent then it should set out its reasons why. (Paragraph 50)

6.It is disappointing that the Government has not appointed a Chief Data Officer, some time after it committed to do so in the 2017 Government Transformation Strategy. The Government should appoint a Chief Data Officer by the end of 2019. (Paragraph 51)

7.The Government has made positive commitments to artificial intelligence and harnessing its value for transformation. It is too early to assess to what extent the National Data Strategy and Industrial Strategy will impact the Government’s use of innovative technologies. We are concerned, however, that a lack of central leadership for the use of AI and other innovative technologies in Government services may result in inconsistent deployment across departments. (Paragraph 61)

8.The Government should make the Government Office for AI responsible, as a central body, for leading on ensuring that all departments take advantage of the transformative benefits that Artificial Intelligence and other innovative technologies offer. (Paragraph 62)

9.We welcome the steps that the Government has taken to enhance public trust in data use, including the establishment of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. However, we are concerned that the Government might be taking an overly-cautious approach and second-guessing citizens’ views on how their data should be used. DCMS should ensure that the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation annually assesses public opinion on Government data use. This review should start in summer 2019 and should aim to report by Spring 2020. (Paragraph 70)

Cultural challenges

10.Political leadership in digitisation has been lacking in recent years since Francis Maude ceased being Minister for the Cabinet Office. This, coupled with the departure of senior Civil Service figures in GDS, has resulted in a slowing in the Government’s digital momentum, as evidenced by other countries overtaking the UK in international rankings. It is now necessary to put in place processes which embed digitisation at a department-level and across the Civil Service. (Paragraph 81)

11.The Government should introduce a ministerial digital champion in every department by the end of 2019 who has responsibility for using innovation and digitisation to transform the way their department operates. These champions will need to co-ordinate at a department level and across departments. In response to this Report the Government should set out how this co-ordination will take place. (Paragraph 82)

12.GDS made good progress in its early years on standards and platforms that applied across Government. However, we heard how GDS has “lost its way somewhat” and its purpose is now less clear. GDS’s purpose should be twofold: to provide advice to departments when needed, but also to devise and enforce minimum standards to be applied consistently across Government digital services. Departments, with the relevant capacity, should retain the ability to develop platforms and software. The Government needs to clarify GDS’s role and its relationships with other departments, as well as determining with GDS whether there are any powers it needs to compel departments to take particular action. (Paragraph 91)

13.It is too early to tell if the move of data policy to DCMS presents a challenge or an enhancement for Government digitisation. We urge the Government to keep under review whether DCMS should be the lead department for open data and data ethics, governance and sharing. Further, in response to this Report, the Government should set out whether DCMS requires any additional powers to drive data reform across Government. If it does not deem this necessary it should set out why. (Paragraph 96)

Technical challenges

14.Legacy systems are a significant barrier to effective Government transformation and digitisation. We acknowledge the attempts of the Government, its predecessors and individual departments to produce guidance and to deal with legacy issues. However, the same issues frequently recur, suggesting that the Government and GDS’s advice has not been fully implemented. We acknowledge that there is a significant cost attached to the replacement of legacy systems, which the Treasury must resource adequately. (Paragraph 113)

15.GDS should conduct an audit of all legacy systems across Government, including where they are based, what actions to take, the expected cost of such action and the resulting timescales. GDS’s framework of retain (do nothing), retire (drop), re-host (lift and shift), repurchase (shop and drop), re-platform (life and shape) should be used to determine what actions to take with each legacy system. The audit should assess which approach is most realistic but ‘retain’ should not be used widely as the proposed action in the long-term as there is clear evidence that the legacy system issue is going to increase over time and there are challenges with regard to the skills for supporting such systems. GDS should seek to publish the findings of this audit. This audit should be completed no later than December 2020. (Paragraph 114)

16.More needs to be done to centralise leadership of cyber security policy and ensure that all departments are prioritising it in the same way. Responsibility in Government for cyber security policy is spread between departments to ensure checks and balances are in place, but we are concerned that this may result in a lack of accountability for specific incidents. We support the 2018 recommendation of our colleagues on the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy that there should be a Minister for Cyber Security. The Government should reconsider creating a Minister for Cyber Security who will be able to hold Ministers across Government to account for their internal cyber security. This Minister would also be responsible for working with other public sector bodies, including the NHS and local Government, to ensure that best practice and guidance was being shared across the public sector. (Paragraph 123)

17.The Government has taken positive steps to develop cyber security standards. Despite this we remain concerned that cyber security policy varies between departments even if there are minimum cyber security standards. This creates unnecessary procurement barriers particularly for SMEs and small tech providers. The Cabinet Office should review their universal, departmental cyber security standards and ensure they are sufficient, and clearly set out the requirements that bidders must meet to be eligible for Government procurements by the end of 2019. If any department wishes to diverge from these standards, they should have to make a case to the Minister for Implementation. (Paragraph 128)

Institutional challenges

18.The Government, including GDS, has made good attempts to tackle the digital skills shortage, through academies, creating job roles and considering progression pay. Nonetheless, more action is needed to ensure that digital skills capabilities are sustainable and not significantly affected by turnover of staff that is an issue for the digital workforce in both the public and private sector. (Paragraph 138)

19.The Government should publish a strategy by mid-2020 covering how it intends to make digital skills sustainable. It should also set out the ways in which it plans to continue to raise the skill levels of the Government workforce, ensuring that it is attracting and retaining the best and most digitally skilled employees as well as spreading best practice to staff working in roles which are predominantly non-digital. (Paragraph 139)

20.The Government has introduced initiatives, such as G-Cloud, the Digital Marketplace and the GovTech Catalyst Fund, to try and open up digital/IT procurements to a broader pool of bidders. These have helped to partially overcome some barriers involved in procurement, including engagement with SMEs. However, further innovation in procurement is needed to encourage involvement from start-ups and SMEs so that their strengths can be drawn on to enable transformation. (Paragraph 154)

21.The Crown Commercial Service should produce a consultation immediately on the accessibility of the current Government technology procurement framework, asking for input from start-ups and SMEs on how accessible the current framework is. The consultation process (including a public response from the Government) should be concluded by Spring 2020, alongside the publication of a Government technology procurement strategy. The Minister should then provide this Committee with an update on how these are working within 12 months of publication. (Paragraph 155)

22.The Government should increase the funding pot for the GovTech Catalyst fund. (Paragraph 156)

Published: 10 July 2019