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It’s been a turbulent year for the UK government. Three prime ministers, four chancellors, and a whole bunch of Cabinet reshuffles made it difficult for anyone in the public sector digital, data and technology profession to get a handle on policy, strategy and delivery.
But as 2023 arrives, many of the same old challenges facing government IT leaders remain. Moving away from legacy IT, accelerating digital transformation, tackling skills shortages and resolving how to introduce new and emerging technologies will all be familiar problems to anyone following the public sector. We even saw the launch of both a new government digital strategy, and a new digital government strategy – and yes, they are different things.
Small steps have been made, and there are clear signs of progress – but the full benefits of digital transformation across the public sector remain elusive. However, as Computer Weekly found out, the UK’s challenges are nothing compared with those facing the tech team at war-torn Kyiv City Council.
Here are Computer Weekly’s top 10 stories about the UK government and public sector in 2022 – and one from Ukraine.
Turning a transport booking service into an air raid alert system is not the typical task of a CIO, but that’s what the IT team at Kyiv City Council was forced to do in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
When Russian tanks entered Ukraine in February and missiles rained down on cities, the IT team at Kyiv City Council embarked on an innovation journey born of necessity. Its response to the war has given the team an experience like no other. Oleg Polovynko, CIO at Kyiv City Council, told Computer Weekly the challenges it was solving had a strong connection with citizens.
The launch of a new digital strategy by the UK government is always a prompt for superlatives.
“An ambitious statement of intent,” the latest three-year roadmap proclaims. It’s “a new era”. The “opportunity” presented by digital transformation of government is “immense” and the latest plans “will ensure UK society reaps the benefits for decades to come”. Savings beyond £1bn are promised.
Are you excited, citizen of the UK? If you’re half as excited as the minister and civil servants who announced the new strategy, then you should be positively bubbling over.
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 more than £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, detailing in an extensive and wide-ranging plan all the initiatives intended to grow the £150bn UK digital economy.
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?”
Although overshadowed by global turmoil, climate breakdown and the growing cost-of-living crisis, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, the 2022 Autumn Statement still contained plenty to interest technologists, particularly when it comes to driving investment and innovation.
Speaking in the House of Commons, chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt vowed to bolster the UK’s science and technology sectors, saying that the 21st century economy will be defined by “new developments in artificial intelligence, quantum technology and robotics”, but argued that the country needs to get much better at turning its technical expertise and world-class innovative nous into world-beating companies.
The government has introduced the Electronic Trade Documents Bill in Parliament, aiming to reduce the amount of paper trade documents that are printed daily.
Previously, all trade documents had to be paper-based to be legally recognised, in line with old legislation such as the Bills of the Exchange Act 1882 and the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1992.
However, the processing time for documents can be long, and often in international trade, paper documents have to be physically handed from one person to another. By introducing digital documentation, the processing time will be reduced to 20 seconds, according to the government.
The majority of civil servants would like to develop their digital skills, but one in five have not received any digital skills training in the past two years, according to a cross-government survey.
The survey by the Global Government Forum, which polled around 1,000 civil servants, culminated in a report on the UK civil service’s digital skills. It found that while 78% of all respondents would like more digital skills training, some don’t feel confident in their own or in their department’s digital skills.
The UK government has provided an update on how it is progressing with its goal of being “the world’s leading digital government”, including tackling ageing IT infrastructure.
The update provided to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee is a response to the recommendations made in the report the Cabinet Office commissioned alongside the Department for Culture, Media and Sport from the Digital Economy Council on how the government should achieve its digital ambitions, and the Maude Review on strengthening cross-government functions.
Public sector organisations should take an iterative approach to data ethics that encompasses every stage of a project, from initial data collection all the way through to live implementation and beyond, so that the lessons learned can be truly incorporated into future work, say experts.
Far too often, data ethics is simply ignored by public sector organisations because it is perceived as either too contentious, complicated or time consuming.
The Online Safety Bill has returned to Parliament with a number of amendments, but MPs and online safety experts are still concerned about the impact of encryption-breaking measures on people’s privacy. Nearly six months after the government delayed its passage over legislative timetabling issues, the Bill returned to the House of Commons on 5 December with a number of changes for MPs to debate.
These include: new criminal offences for assisting or encouraging self-harm online, as well as controlling or coercive behaviour towards women; amendments forcing social media platforms to publish risk assessments on the dangers their services pose to children; further powers for online harms regulator Ofcom to compel greater transparency from companies; and the removal of the controversial “legal but harmful” provision.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will begin migrating to the government’s One Login digital identity platform next summer. Speaking at the Think Digital Identity for Government conference (17 November), HMRC chief technology and design officer Tom Skalycz said this will mean transferring services away from Government Gateway, the department’s identity, authentication and transaction platform.
The One Login for Government programme has the objective of simplifying access to central government, said Skalycz, adding that government departments will begin onboarding services to One Login by 2025 and that HMRC will begin migrating its services next summer.
The UK government’s plans to reform data protection laws have been criticised by campaigners and lawyers for giving too much power to ministers over privacy and data sharing, as well as reducing digital rights and safeguards.
The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which was introduced to Parliament on 18 July 2022, provides more detail on reforms to the UK’s post-Brexit data protection landscape.
While the government claims the reforms will protect citizens better while unburdening businesses, lawyers and civil society groups are worried the changes could lead to a lower standard of data protection and undermine digital rights contained in the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018.