Transforming central and local government IT, and replacing the "pen-and-paper Dickensian business processes" on which the bulk of public services are based, is promised by a Cabinet Office strategy published last week.
The prime minister Tony Blair said the strategy, entitled "Transformational government enabled by technology", has his full support. "I am going to do all I can to help make it happen," he said.
The strategy encompasses the £14bn spent each year on IT systems in the public sector, and includes registering as a profession the 50,000 public sector employees whose jobs are related to IT.
Blair commissioned the strategy from government chief information officer Ian Watmore in March. The document was drawn up by a council of CIOs from central and local government, the NHS, police and other parts of the public service, and public sector business leaders.
Based on the strategy, an action plan will be presented to the CIO Council in January 2006 and a full assessment of the benefits, costs and risks of implementing it will be made next year.
An initial regulatory impact assessment, which accompanied the strategy, said spending on IT is not co-ordinated across the public sector "nor is there any encouragement to departments or individuals to co-ordinate".
It added, "This is evident in the state of technologically-enabled services across Whitehall and beyond; in the take-up statistics for e-government, and in public satisfaction measures."
It said there had been a "general failure across the public sector to design customer-friendly services", although "isolated" examples of excellent services exist.
There is a "massive duplication of effort and expense" because public sector bodies act alone. "Well-publicised failures in technologically-enabled services stem in part from this design failure," it said.
The Cabinet Office also plans to publish an annual report that will list how much each part of government spends on IT. To keep performance monitoring to a minimum, the strategy will not require the monitoring of specific targets. But the National Audit Office will audit the report.
Key aims of the Cabinet Office IT strategy
- Large investments in shared services to reduce duplication of, for example, human resources and finance departments. Officials say there are 1,300 parts of government doing their own thing. Initially shared services will be set up in-house and over time may be outsourced to the private sector. To speed up the delivery of a common IT infrastructure, a "user-led" Common Infrastructure Board will be set up, financed by departments.
- Polling citizens and businesses regularly on what they think of government services. If published, these customer satisfaction surveys may put pressure on departments to improve services.
- Appointing customer group directors. These will represent businesses and groups of individuals, such as pensioners, to determine how joined-up government could serve them better.
- Creating a Service Transformation Board comprising business leaders from the public and voluntary sector, such as the head of the pension service, the chief operating officer of the NHS and a representative from the Citizens Advice Bureau. It will oversee work of the customer group directors and suggest practical ways of transforming public services.
- Streamlining the way services are delivered, for example, by rationalising the 130 call centres in central government and the 2,500 government websites. It may also seek to introduce a single phone number for all government services.