This article is part of our Essential Guide: A guide to a digital government: General election 2015

Labour sets out digital government priorities in election campaign

The Labour Party has set out its digital government priorities, criticising the coalition for failing to meets targets for 'digital by default' services

The Labour Party has set out its digital government priorities as the general election campaign gets under way, taking a swipe at the coalition for failing to meets its targets for new 'digital by default' services.

Labour said the Cabinet Office had failed to deliver the 25 digital exemplars it set out in 2012, despite putting millions of pounds into the budget for the Government Digital Service (GDS). The party claimed that only nine of the 25 services have gone live – although recent launches since Labour’s review have pushed that up to 13, with seven more released to the public as 'beta' test versions.

Lucy Powell, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “Despite spending on the GDS ballooning, [Cabinet Office minister] Francis Maude has failed to deliver on his promise of 25 exemplar services being live by this March. 

“His plans for digital inclusion miss out those most hard to reach and his focus on transactional services means that he has failed to harness the full potential of digital public services in the hands of the public.

“Labour has a better plan for Britain’s future. The next Labour government will champion transformed digital services for all, improving the experience of public service users. We will also generate savings for the taxpayer by rooting out unnecessary duplication and waste by working in partnership across the public sector to deliver a joined-up digital agenda.”

Labour highlighted three digital priorities if it wins the election:

  • The party said it will “commission a review of data-sharing in government to ensure Whitehall uses individuals’ data in a coherent and ethical manner”.
  • Labour said it will “use the expiry of major government contracts to save taxpayers’ money by breaking up IT services into smaller and more flexible components – this would also make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to bid for government contacts”.
  • The party also aims to “save at least £8.6m a year by bringing local authority websites within the platform”.

Labour’s report, part of its 'Zero-Based Review' process to highlight how it intends to spend taxpayers’ cash in government, also said it wants to give citizens more control of their own data and how it is used by the public sector.

“[We will] incentivise the growth of a digital platform for government,” said the report. “This will provide a common approach to building and delivering public services while also opening up government data and transactions through interfaces based on open standards. 

“This will provide a common approach to giving people ownership and control of their data while also creating savings by reusing technology and processes across traditional departmental silos.”

Watch Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems debate their digital priorities

  • Computer Weekly, TechUK and BCS held a digital debate with the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.
  • MPs Ed Vaizey, Chi Onwurah and Julian Huppert, panellists at the Big Digital Debate event, discuss how to support UK tech startups.
  • The question over whether GDS can scale locally was also discussed at the Computer Weekly debate on government digital policies.

While critical of the Cabinet Office, Labour is generally supportive of GDS, and echoed the government’s recent call to extend GDS’s remit to include local authorities.

“We will continue the work of GDS to build shared, standardised platforms that can be used across the whole of the public sector,” said the report. “Common platforms will also allow government to share more data and eliminate costly duplicated projects.”

Labour also said politicians needed a better understanding of how important technology is to public service delivery.

“It has become increasingly clear that ministers need to engage with and understand the IT use and needs of their department, and that government should recognise that IT issues vary greatly between policy-heavy and delivery-dominated ministries,” it said.

The Zero-Based Review report was largely based on Labour’s Digital Government Review, led by shadow digital government minister Chi Onwurah, which published its findings last November.

Although Labour has used different terminology in its latest report, many of its proposals resemble plans recently put in place by GDS. For example, GDS’s government-as-a-platform strategy aims to deliver common digital platforms across Whitehall; under Cabinet Office controls over IT spending, existing outsourcing deals are being wound down and broken up into smaller contracts or brought in-house, where appropriate; and Chancellor George Osborne announced in the Budget that GDS is to work more closely with local authorities.

Labour also cited several examples of “waste and false economy” around IT in government, such as the troubled Universal Credit system – although industry observers pointed out that Labour’s track record for costly IT failures during its time in government was much worse.

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