What has happened to the Prime Minister's Digital Taskforce?

In July, the government revealed the existence of the Prime Minister’s Digital Taskforce – notable at that time mainly for the fact that Tech City chair and former Facebook Europe managing director Joanna Shields had become its first appointee,

The taskforce, we were told, was headed by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, along with Ed Vaizey, recently appointed as digital economy minister after David Cameron’s Cabinet reshuffle.

In the three months since then we have seen a lot of pre-election digital activity from, erm, the Labour Party. The party’s Digital Skills Taskforce reported its findings in late July; Labour published the submissions to its Digital Government Review the same month; and at the party conference in September, a group of Labour digital activists backed by shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna published a report calling for a £10bn, five-year plan to make the UK the world’s leading digital economy.

Kudos to Labour for making digital an issue.

But the PM’s taskforce? Nothing. Last month, Computer Weekly asked the Cabinet Office for an update on its progress, its remit and timelines. Three weeks later, they got back to us to say it is “early days” and that “it’s down to the taskforce to say how we stay ahead in this area”. Although apparently Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat minister for employment relations and consumer affairs, is also now a deputy chair, presumably to add a Coalition flavour to the exercise.

Even the IT industry – in the guise of trade body TechUK – has since published a digital manifesto for the next government.

You don’t think someone forgot, do you?

To be fair, the Cabinet Office can of course point to the great progress made by the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the emergence of what Maude called “mini GDSs” in Whitehall departments. The PM does have the advantage of being able to point to things the government has actually done – supporting Tech City, reforming the computing curriculum, promoting digital apprenticeships – rather than simply making statements of intent about things it would like to do.

But as the 2015 election approaches – and let’s face it, all the political parties are into campaigning mode already – the digital and technology community will be looking to the Tories for their 2020 vision.

It’s not too late of course, but if you’re going to announce a digital taskforce in the Prime Minister’s name, you’d better be sure it’s not just populist rhetoric.

We await further details with continued interest.

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One of the messages from the rise of UKIP is that no-one trusts what politicians say. They look to see what they do!

In the mean time it is helpful to look at the questions they ask, whether as government or via those they ask to do policy studies for them.

In this context you missed the importance of the DCMS/Treasury consultation on a Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy. So far as I can can the only cover has been that in my Blog beginning in mid-August: https://www.computerweekly.com/blogs/when-it-meets-politics/2014/08/now-is-your-opportunity-to-hel.html

The "manifestos" you quote are merely inputs to debate. The "vision" behind them is debatable. More interesting by far were the questions asked by Chi Onwurah's Digital Government team (which has yet to report) or in the course of Maggie Philbin's skills exercise.

You will find some of the questions currently being asked by the Tories in the studies to which I linked in my most recent blog entry

Rather more important, however were my comments that the gap between the priorities of the technology lobbyists and the priorities of the users of technology (which now includes almost all voters) is rather greater than that between the parties.

I do not envy those responsible for trying to reconcile the two when they draft their "visions" to put to the electorate. I am glad that this time round I am only an "advisor" - trying to drum up better inputs from a wider audience.