1.On 21 April, the Committee published its report Beyond Digital: Planning for a Hybrid World, which considered how the pandemic had rapidly accelerated digital trends such as e-commerce, the online provision of public services, remote working, and automation by businesses, and what the long-term implications of this might be for our social and economic wellbeing.
2.On 5 July, the Committee received the Government’s response, which is published as an appendix to this report.
3.We are extremely disappointed with what we have received. Eight of our 24 recommendations are not even acknowledged in the response, including very substantial ones in relation to the current legislative framework for employment rights, for example, and the lessons that need to be learned from the disruption to pupil’s education that has taken place over the past 16 months. A list of all the report’s recommendations are included in an appendix to this report; those that were not acknowledged have been highlighted for ease of reference.
4.Considerable thought and effort goes into the production of Committee reports: by members, staff and, perhaps most importantly, by the witnesses who give of their time and expertise. We do so because we are given a remit by the House to investigate a particular subject or subjects, as part of the House’s vital work in investigating public policy and holding the Government to account. We strive to gather together and analyse the best possible evidence, to make considered and useful recommendations to Government. When the Government then fails to engage adequately with this process, we (and the House) cannot fully discharge our functions.
5.We suspect that part of the problem with this particular response was that our report cut across the remits of a number of Government departments. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) therefore needed to seek input from a number of other departments, who may have felt that (as a report ‘about digital’) this was not really their responsibility. This highlights the importance of the central recommendation of our report: that as our world becomes an increasingly hybrid one, with a blend of on- and offline interactions affecting all aspects of our daily lives, responsibility for how to respond to the challenges and opportunities this poses should sit with the Cabinet Office rather than siloed in DCMS.
6.We also appreciate that Ministers and the Civil Service have been tirelessly engaged for well over a year now in the immediate day to day pandemic challenges. However, the response that was provided seems to indicate that the whole of Government has not yet fully caught up with the transformational nature, in terms of digital acceleration and the hybrid world everyone is now operating in, of the pandemic and the implications that therefore this will have on the development of public policy across Government.
7.We are extremely disappointed with the quality of the response we have received to our Beyond Digital report. While Governments may decide not to support recommendations made by committees of the House, they should at least give them due consideration and respond accordingly.
8.We urge the Government to provide a further, more considered response to our recommendations and, in particular, to the eight recommendations that they failed to acknowledge at all in their initial response.
1 COVID-19 Committee, (1st Report, Session 2019-21, HL Paper 263)