So where's all these digital services GDS promised us?

Doubts over whether cost savings will ever become reality


Simpler, clearer and politically expedient

In a response to a question on the effectiveness of GDS, last week Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said: "[These] 25 major services have been redesigned to make them simpler, clearer and faster to use. That will not only provide savings to the taxpayer but improve delivery for the public."

But the economic case for its digital services has also been disputed by many. Not least Sally Howes, executive leader of the National Audit Office.

"From our point of view we don't see them building a convincing economic case,” reported Government Computing. "At a very high strategic level, the government's digital strategy is very understandable. At a macro level, the potential for cost savings are high. But I'm missing learning and case studies from individual service transformations.”

Jessica Figueras, analyst at Kable, agrees. "In terms of cost savings, digital requires a massive channel shift. At the moment, GDS services are far too low-volume to make a difference." Any cost savings that are currently being made by the government through IT are down to tough contract negotiations, she says.

Indeed, taking a look at the list of live and “public beta” exemplar services, it is hard to see much that addresses high-volume or counts as “transformational”.

Some of its services – such as register-to-vote service – have created more confusion, leaving some users puzzled as to whether they are the electoral register or not, including the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones.

The system has no facility to check whether a voter is registered to vote. It is only intended to ping the details of people who know they are not on the register over to the local authority. One electoral registration officer us: "Myself and a number of people in my social circle were all completely confused and somewhat disheartened by the messages from the system. I would consider us to be fairly sophisticated IT users and not naïve voters at all."

Other exemplars sound impressive but the service titles are misleading as to what they can actually enable. The Digital Self Assessment exemplar is actually nothing more than an email reminder. In a post about the service on Saturday, GDS head Mike Bracken commented: "Digital Self Assessment is one of those services (a bit like Register to Vote) that’s so quick and simple to use that people can be forgiven for thinking 'Is that it?'"


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