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Nearly 7,000 civil service jobs at risk in government-as-a-platform strategy

Business case for Government Digital Service’s GaaP programme has predicted thousands of Whitehall job losses from new digital tools

Nearly 7,000 civil servants could lose their jobs if the Cabinet Office’s government-as-a-platform (GaaP) strategy is rolled out successfully.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would be hardest hit, with 2,451 and 2,231 staff potentially made redundant, respectively, out of a Whitehall-wide total of 6,865 forecast losses. The Department for Transport (DfT) would lose 1,126 employees.

The figures were used as part of the May 2015 business case put together by the Government Digital Service (GDS) to gain funding for the GaaP programme. The likely job cuts were included as part of the net £428m annual cost savings predicted in the plan by 2020, according to documents seen by Computer Weekly.

At the end of 2015, GDS received a £450m budget as part of then-chancellor George Osborne’s spending review – based largely on the GDS business case, known at the time as the “enabling strategy”.

The GaaP plan is based on government departments making widespread use of three GDS-developed services – Gov.uk Verify, for identity assurance; Pay for online payments; and Notify for electronic notifications and communications.

Notify was expected to deliver the greatest financial benefits – £344m savings per year by 2020 with running costs of £9m. Verify was to bring £71m annual savings against £37m costs, with Pay bringing a £73m saving against £14m annual costs. The business case also predicted that a further £440m would be saved by avoiding departments spending money on developing their own systems to perform the functions of the three GaaP services.

In the two years since the GaaP business case was produced, GDS has been through significant changes, with a new chief, Kevin Cunnington, a new leadership team and a new minister in charge, Caroline Nokes. But at an event for IT suppliers in London last month, Cunnington reiterated the importance of the GaaP programme to GDS and the government transformation strategy, which was announced earlier this year.

A GDS spokesperson added: “We are committed to enabling the delivery of efficiencies through the government-as-a-platform programme to support the delivery of world-class digital public services.”

Brexit and jobs

Given the government’s need for extra civil servants to cope with Brexit, it is unclear to what extent the predicted job losses would still be achieved today, but the 2015 plans show the scale of redundancies the new digital services were expected to deliver. The GaaP strategy nonetheless highlights the number of people likely to be affected as their current role is made redundant through use of the three digital platforms.

As well as being the departments hardest hit by the expected cuts, HMRC and DWP are also central to achieving the anticipated cost savings. Use of GaaP tools by HMRC is meant to bring savings of £142m per year, with £133m from DWP.

With the Notify service, for example, the business case said: “The value of this platform will primarily be concentrated in operational savings for DWP and HMRC.” For Verify, it said: “Marginal costs will fall dramatically… due to adoption by DWP and HMRC.” And regarding Pay, it said: “Value is largely concentrated in HMRC and DfT.”

However, relations between the big departments and GDS have been rocky at times, and questions remain over the extent to which HMRC and DWP will adopt the GDS tools. In particular, HMRC has previously suggested it does not want to use Verify. It has since been instructed to do so by the Cabinet Office, but sources continue to say that HMRC would still prefer to use its own Government Gateway system for identity verification, which is currently being redeveloped.

Read more about government as a platform

Most of the job cuts were expected to come from roles involved in manual processing of payments and identity documents, as well as reductions in call centre staff and people involved in handling physical communications, which would instead be done electronically. In 2013/14, central government managed 150 million calls and 600 million items of mail, according to GDS figures.

In the business case, GDS predicted that about 50% of citizens would adopt a digital channel over offline methods after a year of the service being available – but for GaaP, that depends on departments first adopting the platforms as part of their digital offerings.

The documents seen by Computer Weekly detail expected cost savings by departments, but do not include any details about which departmental services are expected to use the GaaP tools, or how many services are needed to achieve the expected savings.

The challenge today is that take-up of the GDS GaaP services in government has been relatively slow and GDS is keen to speed up adoption. As of 3 August, Notify is used in 69 digital services by 33 public sector bodies; Verify is used by just 15 services and has been criticised for its poor performance levels; while Pay is seeing a little more success, with 395,000 payments made, at an average value of £45.65.

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