Government digital transformation ‘too slow’ and facing resistance

21 Jun 17

Digitalisation of government and public services is moving too slowly as departments resist change, the Institute for Government has found.

The IfG’s Improving the management of digital government report, published today, calls for the appointment of a dedicated digitalisation minister responsible for driving change and raising standards.

It highlights the recent ransomeware cyber-attack on the NHS as an example of the fragility of some systems being used in the public sector.

In that instance, 47 health trusts in England were hit as well as 13 NHS organisations in Scotland disrupting services.

The report also notes that the Government Digital Service (GDS), the Cabinet Office unit responsible for leading digital transformation across government, faces resistance from many corners of Whitehall.

“The spread of new digital services for the public has been slower than planned. And departments resent interference and resist new ways of working,” it states.

A study from IT consultants Sopra Steria, published earlier this month, found the majority of civil servants are in favour of further digitalisation but are frustrated by lack of support in terms of training.

Daniel Thornton, IfG programme director, said: “The recent cyber-attack on the NHS shows that the government must urgently improve digital government.

“A minister for digital government should be appointed, as it is not yet clear which minister leads this work.

“What is clear is that progress on digital government continues to be painfully slow.”

Thornton added that, while GDS standards have been effective they need greater clarity and to be extended more widely throughout Whitehall. The standards also need to set the agenda more clearly with contractors.

A Cabinet Office Spokesperson said: "It is surprising that the report has called for specific Minister for Digital Government. Since GDS was formed in 2011, the minister for the Cabinet Office has been responsible for oversight of its work. 

"The government restated its commitment to an ambitious agenda on digital government with the launch of the Government Transformation Strategy in February of this year. The GTS sets out how the government will harness digital technologies, skills and tools to transform public services and put the citizen first – and redefine the relationship between the citizen and the state.

"GDS will continue to work with all government departments to ensure that its standards are met and consistently deliver world leading digital public services."

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