It’s been a long time coming, but the document we’ve all been waiting for is finally here. The government transformation strategy, billed as one which will, according to Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer, “change the relationship between the government and the public”, is certainly ambitious.
With its five key areas: Transforming back-office tech, increasing skills, improving IT, better use of data and shared platforms, it’s a strong plan. There is no doubt that change needs to happen, and this document sets out a strong plan for delivery of these changes.
The proof is in the pudding
I don’t doubt the minister’s sincerity, when he said he wants to see a revolution, but does the rest of the civil service?
While the strategy promises to change the relationship between the citizen and the state, a first port of call should really be changing civil servants’ view of digital. We’ve heard it all before: “digital transformation”, “culture change”, “shared services”, “developing skills”. The success of the ambitious goals set out in the strategy is so incredible dependent on the civil service as a whole being 100% in on the journey.
Having civil servants on board with digital transformation is by no means a new thought. The Government Digital Service (GDS), has been relentless in its effort to get departments involved and interested in digital projects with varying success rates.
It’s no secret that there has been mounting tension between GDS and some of the large departments. In fact, for the first time, Gummer admitted that strained relations have made it difficult to move forward. However, he says things are now getting better and they are having “almost weekly meetings” with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which has been one of the more resistant departments to the involvement of GDS.
Cunnington also plans to open four locations for his digital academy – a civil servant training initiative he launched in the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and brought with him to GDS.
But the inertia amongst civil servants isn’t going to go away overnight. There are decades of working in silos and departmental structures. Quite frankly, most civil servants probably don’t see the need for change, and a transformation strategy isn’t going to suddenly revolutionise the way they feel. Yes- it promises to change the way departments work, and upskill their staff, but how this translates in real life remains to be seen.
It’s not necessarily a criticism of the strategy itself. The document makes lots of sense, and is thorough in its statements. But I am left with the feeling that we’ve heard it all before. Something is missing, whether it’s a true drive, or the lack of properly measurable targets, I don’t know.