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Labour commits to GDS and says it wants to keep contractors

Caroline Baldwin

The Labour party has said it will build on the Government Digital Service's (GDS) work if it gains power in the general election next May.

The party has also said it will keep GDS staff – over half of which are on short-term contracts – if they wish to stay.

Chi Onuwarah.png

Last week, Computer Weekly reported that 60% of GDS staff contracts are due to expire within 12 months of general election, which could present a huge risk to the next government’s digital plans if they are not retained.

But Labour's shadow cabinet office minister, Chi Onwura, has said she hopes those who are currently working for GDS will continue to work under a Labour government to make it the “most digital government ever.”

Governments around the world have sought to recreate the vision and skills of GDS and we recognise we will need to build on the work that GDS is doing to provide leadership, to build better services and to create a platform for those services,” she said.

“We certainly will need the skills of the excellent people that work for and with GDS, skills for which there is a great deal of competition.”

But Onwura said she wouldn’t be able to set out the exact departmental structure of the next Government, including the structure of GDS.

In the lead-up to the 2015 general election, Labour has been conducting a digital review into how digital technologies can help improve public services and government.

Off the back of the party’s Digital Government Reviewsome observers have questioned Labour’s commitment to keeping GDS.

But Labour's main criticism of the Coalition's digital policy has been that it is too focused on cutting costs. Labour wants digital government to be more "progressive", and focused on enabling citizens, rather than just cutting costs.

One area which Labour intends to focus on in the run-up to the election is how some 11 million people are struggling to access the internet – because they either do not know how or are too poor to get online.

As the coalition government continues to push forward with its digital by default initiative, Labour has been hitting back with how this may be isolating a proportion of UK citizens.

“Our focus will be different than the current government as we seek to unleash the full potential of digital government for everyone across the country, including those currently digitally excluded,” she added.

“We must extend the transformation of public services to the more complex, knotty interactions with hard-to-reach groups.”

Onwura said for a digital government to be successful, and not exclude citizens without access to the internet and devices, the government will need to work with other departments, public sector bodies, local government, the third sector and citizens themselves to collaborate and work together.

“Innovation and best practice does not just come from Whitehall,” she said. “As the disastrous roll-out of Universal Credit shows, that collaborative approach is something that this government cannot accomplish.

“I hope those currently working for GDS will recognise the challenge to make digital government work for all and be inspired by it.”


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