Government’s digital approach has lost momentum

scott-blake-1GW45VDkFI0-unsplashIn 2011, the UK Government created the Government Digital Service (GDS) to sit within the Cabinet Office. It was created to implement the then Government’s “digital by default” strategy. The core purposes of GDS were to: save money; centralise information via a single website; and improve the user experience of Government. In 2017, the UK Government announced its intentions to transform its operations in the Government Transformation Strategy, which sought to use technology to transform Government, making it more responsive to change and the needs of citizens, and putting more power into the hands of the citizen.

The UK Government has consistently been placed in the top five in the United Nations e-Government survey. In 2016 the UK was ranked number one in this survey, but fell to fourth behind Denmark, Australia and South Korea in 2018. In our inquiry we heard concerns that the UK had lost momentum in its digitisation agenda.

The UK Government can learn from other international examples of best practice, such as Estonia where citizens have a single unique identifier. We conclude that 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.

We find in this Report that 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 the Government commencing phase one of developing its 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. This audit should be completed and published in advance of the National Data Strategy being published in Winter 2020.

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 …

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