UK government promises digital progress metrics after critical report

By on 28/10/2019 | Updated on 04/02/2022
Norman Lamb MP says government “must re-address its approach to digitisation quickly if it wants to retain public trust and its envied position on the world stage”. (Image courtesy: NHS Confederation/flickr).

The UK has pledged to develop a “robust” set of metrics to measure the progress of digital initiatives, following a highly critical report which found the government’s digital agenda has “lost momentum”.

The government agreed with MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, whose report was published in July, that it should publicly set out a set of metrics measuring the government’s progress on digital agendas.

The report noted that the UK has been overtaken by other countries when it comes to digital transformation, and said that the Government Digital Service (GDS) has “lost its way” and that its role is becoming “increasingly unclear”. 

Norman Lamb MP, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said when the report was released that the government “must re-address its approach to digitisation quickly if it wants to retain public trust and its envied position on the world stage”.

In its official response to the report, the government said that it is working with departments to develop the metrics “that will enable us to measure and evaluate our success”, and will improve its data infrastructure to support the new system. And it responded to the committee’s finding that legacy IT systems are holding back progress and pose a cybersecurity threat, noting that the Cabinet Office, GDS and the National Cyber Security Centre are undertaking a review focusing on legacy IT.

“GDS will use the outcome of this discovery phase to conduct an enhanced audit of the legacy IT estate, leading to support to individual departments in developing business cases to reduce their exposure to risk,” the government said.

During the committee’s inquiry, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said the government wanted to replace legacy IT systems with up-to-date systems, but that this would require extra funding from the Treasury. In its response to the committee’s report, the government said it will seek to use the next Spending Review as an opportunity to address the issues identified.

The Spending Review – which in theory outlines spending over a three-year period – has been repeatedly postponed in the UK’s fractious politics. A one-year review was held in September, but a Budget scheduled for 6 November has just been cancelled by chancellor Sajid Javid, who said that the likelihood of a winter election means that Parliament may not be sitting on that day.

Greater clarity around the role of GDS

The committee also called for greater clarity around the role of GDS, and claimed the organisation was lacking in authority to drive digital change across the public sector.

In its response, the government said that departments “will continue to retain the ability to develop platforms and software, and GDS’s purpose is to help government deliver user-focused services and embrace, adapt and respond to the dynamic and innovative digital world”.

The government also highlighted GDS’s role in developing digital skills and capabilities across Whitehall. It said GDS will continue to be the centre of DDaT [digital, data and technology] capability building, with the introduction of capability-based pay to encourage the development and retention of “deep expertise, and training, building and maturing the DDaT function and profession across government”.

“Our approach in this space allows departments to retain the flexibility to respond to local pressures within existing structures, budgets and business strategies while providing a consistent set of data tools to inform departmental pay strategies,” it said.

Earlier this month, when asked about criticisms – including those of the Science and Technology Committee – in an interview with Global Government Forum, Alison Pritchard, interim director general of GDS, said that the unit has evolved to meet changing needs.

Its role has shifted since the unit was launched in 2011 as a “digital disruptor, intervening in technology development for what was quite a young profession,” she said, and it now provides more guidance and assistance. As a result, she said, “it’s more difficult to point at single things that GDS itself has made happen, other than through helping to build the capability to achieve these things; doing the joins across departments; and joining up departmental goals through the functional leaders group [the committee formed of the heads of each function]”.  

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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