A breathless week for digital government and government digital

If you have worked in the tech or digital world for less than five years, the past week must have been very exciting for you.

First, you would have read about the new digital government strategy announced by the Cabinet Office, promising over £1bn of savings through the development and improvement of online public services.

Then, you would have read about the new government digital strategy, announced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), detailing in an extensive and wide-ranging plan all the initiatives intended to grow the £150bn UK digital economy and make this “the best place in the world to start and grow a technology business”.

Along the way, you may barely have noticed the new NHS data strategy, detailing how our personal medical data will be used to transform healthcare in the UK, using “the power of data to bring benefits to all parts of health and social care”.

And amid all this excitement you might hardly have given a glance to the announcement of the first companies given official certification to provide digital identity apps to support the first online public services built around the newly updated beta version of the DCMS digital ID trust framework which sits at the heart of both the new government digital strategy and the government’s new digital strategy.

(Apologies for the unpunctuated state of that preceding sentence, but this really has been a breathless week).

Meanwhile, those of you who have been watching the state of digital government (and, of course, government digital) for longer than five years, will no doubt have shrugged and thought, “What’s new?”

At last week’s digital government strategy launch (not the government digital strategy launch – do keep up), there was at least an acknowledgement of the déjà vu nature of the event, in that the Whitehall officials came prepared with an answer to the question, “Haven’t we heard this all before?”

The answer amounted mostly to, “Well, maybe. But we promise things will be different this time.”

That’s alright, then.

What conclusions can we draw from the familiarity of all we have heard? It could be that a) digigovstrat is just hard. Maybe it’s b) govistratdig needs more / better / different people to deliver it. Or perhaps it’s c) the UK government is simply not institutionally capable of making the changes needed to effectively deliver on its repeated stratidigitgov objectives? Choose your own preference.

Only two things are certain, and they are as certain now as they have been in every govdigitstrat programme of the past 25 years.

The UK needs vastly, gobsmackingly better digital public services than we have.

The UK needs a globally competitive digital economy and needs it pronto, or the gathering economic and political malaise around the country will forever leave us playing catch-up as a second-tier digital nation.

On those two points, all of us, inside and outside government, can surely agree.

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