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Poor data and IT hamper cross-government working, PAC report finds

Report cites inadequate data, poor IT systems and departmental silos as major barriers to cross-government working, and calls on government to do better

Government departments struggle to work together due to a lack of good quality data and IT systems that are unable to communicate with each other, according to a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report.

The report found a lack of routine data sharing between departments is among the most common barriers to effective cross-government working.

“Many of the projects and programmes brought before the committee suffer from a lack of good quality data or are adversely affected by government IT systems not ‘talking’ to each other,” the report said.

It added that in a survey by HM Treasury and Cabinet Office, completed in 2022, issues with data were seen as the main barrier to cross-government working. The survey found that 63% of the 229 respondents felt that technical issues made it difficult to share data effectively, and 62% felt departments were unwilling to share data across government, which significantly hampered collaboration.

“We have reported time and time again on the impact of poor IT, and are aware of the extreme complexity and inconsistency of data systems across government, for example, within the criminal justice system,” the report said. “The Cabinet Office told us that across government, there are around 205 core systems that run HR, finance and payroll and, to compound this problem, there are a further 655 systems that support these. We heard how departments are beginning to improve data consistency by establishing standards and enabling data sharing across government, although issues remain, including accessing data from the private sector.”

The report said the Cabinet Office has told the committee that extracting the value out of the data to drive insights and decisions is also one of the big challenges government faces.

“Without good data, it’s difficult to evaluate effectively what works. In addition, insufficient data capacity and capability across government means skills needed to interpret data are not available,” the report said, adding that Cabinet Office claims its “One Big Thing” initiative to deliver data training has seen 40% of civil servants signed up.

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The PAC has called on both HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office to work with the Evaluation Taskforce and the Analysis function to identify the key data needed to “deliver, monitor and evaluate cross-government projects”, and assist departments in collecting data and having the analytical capability to interpret it.

The report also found that bureaucracy is hindering planning and delivery, and that there is often inconsistent joining up in spending decisions and allocations.

“So many important government projects are dependent on Whitehall working in harmony with itself,” said PAC chair Meg Hillier. “Yet so often, difficulties with cross-government working are precisely what is hindering these projects and the benefits for citizens. While departments are rightly focused on their own policy areas, complex societal issues cannot be solved in departmental silos.

“Both the Treasury and Cabinet Office have made good progress in naming the problem by identifying the barriers preventing good working across government,” she said. “The government must now continue the process of toppling these barriers. We hope the recommendations in our report help it to do so.”

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