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Treasury plans speedy approach to project delivery

Treasury will become the “new radicals” of Whitehall, taking charge of getting rid of legacy IT, making data-driven decisions and investing in data infrastructure

HM Treasury will change its approach to public spending, with the aim of speeding up government projects and dealing with legacy IT, according to chief secretary Steve Barclay.

Speaking to think tank Onward, the chief secretary to the Treasury said government will use data to drive better decision making, and promised to speed up the delivery of government projects.

He said that government has also launched a new infrastructure delivery task force, led by chancellor Rishi Sunak, called Project Speed, which aims to “cut down the time it takes to develop, design and deliver vital projects”.

“A new public infrastructure is emerging to govern how we collect, share and exploit the vast datasets which are generated as a byproduct of 21st century life,” said Barclay. “But building this will involve sorting out the data architecture as well as the data sets.”

To allow for a more “fundamental change”, Treasury is planning a multi-year spending review. “Remember, the average tenure of a secretary of state is less than two years, and so it’s no surprise that issues such as legacy IT are often deprioritised in favour of the new and exciting. This is despite the fact that currently around half of central government IT spend is on servicing legacy IT,” he said.

“Such an approach is not only expensive. It also poses cyber-security risk, and prevents agile ways of working and cross departmental interaction. It also obstructs the use of new innovative IT solutions and the sharing of data more openly.

“That is why a key focus of the Spending Review will be addressing legacy IT and investing in the data infrastructure we need to become a truly digital government.”

A data driven Treasury

Barclay said that the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has shown a “can do” attitude by civil servants, and it’s time to make it permanent.

“To be the new radicals, leading change across government. Done well, we can move on from an era of spreadsheets. We can create a smarter and faster culture in Whitehall,” he said.

Data is one of Barclay’s key priorities, and he said the national shielding programme during the pandemic, where departments and organisations have had to coordinate and share data to ensure those shielding had access to food and medicine, has proved how valuable it is.

In the Treasury, he said, people need to think differently about their relationship with data and how it’s used to make decisions.

He added that the Government Digital Service (GDS) and Treasury have created a “new tool to bring together disparate and novel data sources”.

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The tool is being used now for insight into how to best use the £225m the government is giving local transport authorities to invest in walking and cycling infrastructure.

“The insights will support value for money decisions right away. But it will also help determine our approach to similar investment in the future as part of the £2bn the prime minister has announced for cycling and walking. It could, for example, help us speed up delivery, reduce costs or improve safety,” he said.

“And while this is a project in itself, we are using it as a test case of how we reform data use in the Treasury.”

The government’s comprehensive spending review will be published this autumn, which includes funding lead the development of technologies to support the government’s ambition to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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