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GDS has no real strategy for £450m budget pot, internal plan reveals

Sources say current version is a very wordy doc that says nothing

Exclusive Concerns are mounting that the Government Digital Service has no real plan for spending its £450m budget - following a leaked strategy document obtained by The Register.

In November GDS was awarded the additional funding in the Spending Review to digitally transform Whitehall over this Parliament. Its previous annual budget was £58m. But it has yet to publish a public plan for how it intends to spend that cash.

However, an internal document entitled: "Transforming the relationship between citizens and the state: the Government’s transformation strategy" obtained by The Register, indicates no concrete “business transformation” plans will be available until the autumn.

"The shift to a digital economy continues to radically reshape all aspects of our society," says the opening statement to the document. "Government must redesign itself and its services in the same way. This strategy sets out how we will do that over the next five years."

But the first 40 pages of that plan contain little detail as to how the body intends to bring about change, with the rest of appearing to contain case studies and vague mission statements.

Reiterating what GDS head Stephen Foreshew-Cain has said publicly, the strategy states departments will lead the business transformation, with GDS to play a supportive role.

"More detail about departments’ strategies for business transformation, enabled by digital, technology, data and security are due to be published in September 2016,” it states.

GDS won extra funding from the Spending Review for its "government as a platform" project "an approach that involves developing a common core infrastructure of shared components, technology and standards on which it’s easy to build brilliant, user-centred government services," said the document.

But the only detail of what that will entail were examples of "common platforms" in the Home Office, which will develop a common biometrics platform for government and the Department for Work and Pensions, "which will lead work on a tool to pay money out from government."

The GDS Common Technology Services programme will publish its blueprints for identity and access management for staff, secure email, virtual hosting and printing services by September, it said.

One insider remarked: "This is a very wordy document that manages to say very little.” He added: “The tone is as if this is all going to happen by magic. It says 'departments will transform their end-to-end services to make them better for users'. Phew! Why didn’t anyone think of that before?"

Another said: "There’s nothing in here about dates, scope, numbers, opportunity, or costs - other than the tired retread of how much the spend controls have saved and spurious piece on Verify that says £3bn is the value to the economy of good identity systems.”

The broad plan is outlined in the four areas of service design ­ "redesigning whole services across government to meet user needs, not just digitising individual transactions or pieces of content"; government as a platform; building services with data; and capability ­to ​improve skills and leadership.

One source said the strategy appears to be the third or fourth iteration of previous plans promising to transform government via technology "without any acknowledgement of why it hasn’t worked before and why this one will work." He added: “I support all of those broad intentions, but that doesn’t mean it will happen and I don’t believe it will."

Indeed some government IT watchers have observed that similar statements of intent have been made by a number of previous governments spanning the last 20 years, with each transformation push reinventing and rediscovering the same things.

Jerry Fishenden, technologist and author of Digitizing Government, has compiled links to more than 80 digital government initiatives documents over that period. ®

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