Victorian state government to give away COVID masks; UK civil service cuts ‘would hit services’: policy & delivery news in brief

By on 18/08/2022 | Updated on 18/08/2022
An illustration of the globe wearing a COVID mask
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Victorian state government to give away masks to tackle COVID wave

The Victorian state government in Australia has announced that it will provide a box of 10 N95 masks to people through community organisations and transport hubs, and those who get COVID-19 tests.

The plan over the next four to six weeks is intended to help protect healthcare workers, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said.

“Providing masks free of charge to those who need them most will help them protect themselves, their loved ones, and Victoria’s hardworking healthcare workers,” the premier said.

COVID cases in the state have fallen from a peak of 14,264 daily cases on 20 July to around 6,380.

Incoming UK prime minister warned over job cuts

The next UK prime minister will be warned that plans to cut 91,000 civil service jobs will hit public services.

According to a report in the Financial Times, the plan announced by prime minister Boris Johnson to reduce the size of the government workforce to 2016 levels would require deep cuts to public services and cost at least £1bn (US$1.2bn) in redundancy payments. This was the finding of a Whitehall review by Steve Barclay, Johnson’s former chief of staff and now health secretary.

According to the FT, Barclay’s review led the Treasury to “go cold” on Johnson’s plans after the emergence of the full upfront cost and impact on public services. 

Johnson will be replaced as prime minister on 5 September by either foreign secretary Liz Truss or former chancellor Rishi Sunak. Truss, the frontrunner for the job, has endorsed the 91,000 job cut plan, with backers stating that implementing the reductions would be part of a “wider package around dealing with waste in Whitehall”.

Read more: ‘These cuts will have to include frontline roles’: can the UK government reach its target to cull 91,000 civil service jobs?

This is just the latest report warning about the impact of the planned job cuts. Philip Rycroft, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union, told a Global Government Forum webinar that the planned reductions amounted to “using the civil service as a whipping boy” in light of political pressures faced by the government.

Rycroft said that bureaucracies “do have a tendency to expand”, adding it is “perfectly reasonable for governments the political side of the equation to apply the breaks from time to time”. However, he wanted to know how the government had arrived at the 91,000 target, which is around a fifth of the total civil service. “What they put in place is essentially an arbitrary number, and this is a very odd way of doing your workforce planning.”

Watch: Civil service job cuts: how will government identify them, can they be achieved, and what will the impact be

Saudi Arabia to launch health innovation platform

The government of Saudi Arabia has agreed a strategic partnership with a Silicon Valley innovation platform to launch a health insurance digital platform.

Plug and Play, a startup incubator that was an early investor in firms including Google, PayPal and Dropbox, will form Plug and Play Middle East with Saudi Arabia’s Council of Health Insurance to launch iHub, an online service to bring together insurers, healthcare providers, tech-based startups, and healthcare experts to solve service challenges in the industry.

Council secretary-general Dr. Shabab Al-Ghamdi said: “The partnership agreement with Plug and Play is one of the most important strategic partnerships to enable the sector, entrepreneurs, and emerging companies to innovate technical solutions for the private health insurance sector that overcome challenges and enhance quality and efficiency for beneficiaries to obtain their full rights of protection and care.”

Canada to launch public consultation on digital ID framework for federal public services

Canada’s federal government has announced that it is preparing a public consultation on a framework for digital identity.

The government launched its Digital Ambition 2022 on 5 August this year, setting out what it called “a clear, long-term strategic vision for the Government of Canada to advance digital service delivery, cyber security, talent recruitment, and privacy”. The new strategy replaces the government’s Digital Operations Strategic Plan: 2021-2024.

One key pillar of the ‘Ambition’ is digital identity, with emphasis on the need for government to create fast, straightforward ways to prove ID claims.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for government services to be accessible and flexible in the digital age,” the document said. “The next step in making services more convenient to access is a federal Digital Identity Program, integrated with pre-existing provincial platforms.”

The document reiterates a Treasury Board mandate set in late-2021 to work towards a common digital identity platform for public services.

Digital ID is an often controversial topic, splitting public opinion around the issue of privacy. One Global Government Forum reader wrote that Canada risked becoming “full out ‘Chinadian’. Goodbye to all freedoms and welcome to dictatorship”.

At an event on digital identity and the digital economy earlier this year, Mona Fortier, president of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, stressed that having ownership of a digital credential would protect Canadians from identity theft and fraud, as well as deliver faster access to government services.

However, she added that government had yet to instil trust in digital systems among the public. She suggested this could be improved through open collaboration between industry and government, as well as building diverse teams whose work reflects the concerns of Canadian citizens. “We have a collective responsibility to break down organisational silos, address technical debt to promote quality over speed, and promote open data to foster transparency and trust,” Fortier said.

The Canadian government has yet to provide details on when the its public consultation on digital ID might run.

Read more: Canada to launch public consultation on digital ID framework for federal public services

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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