A short history of government digital strategies

Since 1996 which saw the publication of the Green Paper “Government Direct” the Government has published a new digital strategy almost annually, often supplemented.

“Government Direct” not easy to find now but a contemporaneous analysis explains that the three purposes of the strategy were:

  • provide better and more efficient services to business and citizens
  • improve the efficiency and openness of government administration
  • secure substantial cost savings for taxpayers

Sounds familiar? It should do.

In 1997 Following a change of administration the then Prime Minister announced:

by 2002, 25% of dealings with Government should be capable of being done by the public electronically, that 50% of dealings should be capable of electronic delivery by 2005 and 100% by 2008,

In 1999 the Modernising Government White Paper stated:

We must modernise the business of government itself achieving joined up working between different parts of government and providing new, efficient and convenient ways for citizens and businesses to communicate with government and to receive services.

  • Benefits for citizens included high quality services which are accessible, convenient and secure.
  • Benefits for the public sector included gains in efficiency and effectiveness

Followed up in April 2000 by e-government: a strategic framework for public services in the information age (pdf) in which the benefits were identified (Table 1):

  • Benefits for citizens: wider choice of channels, convenience, lower transaction costs, more personal service, greater awareness of services and policies, greater democratic participation and openness.
  • Benefits for the public sector: greater accuracy and efficiency, reduced transaction costs, better use of the knowledge base. more nimble, flexible working arrangements.

In September 2000 the key points of Electronic Government Services for the 21st Century (large pdf) included:

  • Electronic service delivery offers huge opportunities to improve public services for the benefit of citizens: more convenient, more joined-up, more responsive and more personalised.
  • It is going to transform the way the public sector does business, in many cases replacing traditional channels for doing business with more efficient and effective electronic channels.

Also in September 2000 the Office of the e-Envoy’s (OeE) first annual report (pdf large), only six months after it was established, stated:

  • The Government is investing £3.8 billion to help, of which £2 billion is new money following the Government’s spending review in July 2000.
  • The UK online citizen portal will offer a single online point of entry to government information and services.

The OeE followed up in 2001 by reporting (pdf, large) that:

  • government will ensure that there is a strategy, with a measurable baseline, to maximise take-up of e-services

In 2002 the OeE annual report (pdf, large) stated that the Government will:

  • transform Government by redefining the vision of Government’s role in delivering services online; transforming the experience of users of public services and the efficiency of Government itself
  • make Government more customer focused by enhancing the delivery of key public services at national and local level
  • transform the efficiency of Government itself by driving the take-up of key services to achieve high levels of use

2003 saw the publication of a check list (pdf) of core considerations for the development of strategies for the improved take-up of ‘e’ services containing:

  • a set of 140 questions designed to help departments develop usage strategies. The development of departmental take-up strategies is a requirement set out in the Treasury’s 2002 spending review.

2004 saw the publication of Independent Review of Public Sector Efficiency:

  • To deliver efficiencies in [public services] modern IT systems and management processes are required. In addition, […] a need for achieving high levels of take-up of transactional e-government services by appropriate customer groups.

In January 2005 we got Achieving high take-up of e-services (pdf), a service design and delivery guide:

  • for cost savings
  • better quality public services

Followed rapidly in April 2005 by Connecting the UK: the Digital Strategy (pdf):

The UK Digital Strategy aims to tackle […] low uptake of e-government services by citizens, which it identifies as a threat to the future prosperity of the country. The report […] focuses on how to bridge the digital divide and increase the rate of e-government take-up by users.

and in November 2005 by Transformational Government – Enabled by Technology:

[T]he strategy was directed to provide overall technology leadership in three key areas:

  1. The transformation of public services for the benefit of citizens, businesses, taxpayers and front-line staff.
  2. The efficiency of the corporate services and infrastructure of government organisations, thus freeing resources for the front-line.
  3. The steps necessary to achieve the effective delivery of technology for government.

supplemented in March 2006 by the Transformational Government Implementation Plan (pdf> and

in December 2006 the stategy was supplemented further by Service transformation: A better service for citizens and businesses, a better deal for the taxpayer (pdf, large) offering:

  • Efficiencies could arise from a shift to cheaper and more effective channels, primarily by improved overall channel management;
  • Other specific shifts in thinking that are essential to deliver citizen and business focused services include:
    • service delivery must be organised around the citizen or business – not the needs of the organisation;
    • delivery chains must be viewed as end-to-end processes, not as a series of silo processes;
    • efficiency and effectiveness should decide function and design; and
    • for ongoing success and sustainability it is essential to design in flexibility and adapt services in light of practical experience, changing customer insight and regular benchmarking.

In December 2009 we saw Putting the Frontline First: smarter government (pdf, large) to:

Accelerate the move to digitalised public services that are personalised, flexible, cost-efficient and save people time.

January 2010 saw the publication of the Government ICT Strategy:

This ICT Strategy supports existing core public sector goals, set in Digital Britain, Building Britain’s Future and the Operational Efficiency Programme:

  • improving public service delivery
  • improving access to public services, and
  • increasing the efficiency of public service delivery.

Republished in March 2011:

The Coalition Government is determined to do things better. Government ICT is vital for the delivery of efficient, cost-effective public services which are responsive to the needs of citizens and businesses.

November 2011 produced One Year On: Implementing the Government ICT Strategy (pdf):

Digitising transactional services will save people and businesses time and money; by making transactions faster, reducing the number of failed transactions and simplifying the end-to-end process.

and finally (as at December 2012) the Government Digital Strategy in which it is claimed that there are savings of £1.7 billion to be had by moving public transactions online:

Departments will learn from the expertise of organisations who have successfully undertaken ‘channel shift’ to digital services.

which might leave one wondering what they’ve been up to over the past fifteen years especially as the government admits:

In the last decade our IT costs have gone up – while our services remained patchy. According to some estimates, we spend more on IT per capita than any other government.” Estimated annual IT spend in the public sector is between £14bn and £20bn.

as shown by the officially reported performance of the flagship online car tax disc:

At the moment we lag behind,” said Mr Maude. “For example, 74% of people use the internet for car insurance, but only 51% buy car tax online.

Just in case you still need to be convinced that the GDS isn’t new try reading about:

Long since forgotten is the proposal from 2003 to try something different, explored on Platform 10:

— Gerry Gavigan, Chair, 7 December 2012

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