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David Cameron hails Government Digital Service as 'unsung triumph'

Prime minister David Cameron announces legislation to join up IT across the emergency services, hailing the Government Digital Service (GDS) as a triumph

Prime minister David Cameron will hail the Government Digital Service (GDS) as “one of the great unsung triumphs of the last parliament” in a speech today (Friday 11 September 2015).

Cameron is due to deliver a keynote speech, ahead of the spending review. He will argue the need for a progressive reform to streamline services, including joining up IT and back-office functions of the police, fire and ambulance services.

He will also hail the Government Digital Service (GDS) as a triumph that “makes a difference” – indicating a vote of confidence in the programme, which has been clouded by speculation over its future since the departure of its chief, Mike Bracken, along with several other high-level staff members.

Since Bracken's unexpected departure, rumours have been circulating over cuts to GDS budgets and claims that his strategy for "government as a platform" (GaaP) had been rejected.

However, in an interview with Computer Weekly last month, Bracken said GaaP is still on track and the business case will be considered as part of the spending review.

An internal audit report revealed in August 2015 that the government has saved £18.6bn in the past year, with at least £1.7bn coming from reform led by the Cabinet Office and the GDS. The prime minister will argue that the government has to look at the way businesses are adapting to change, using technology to deliver services.

“Across the spectrum, there are opportunities for us to make a difference – not just to people’s pockets but to people’s lives. For example, I believe the creation of the Government Digital Service is one of the great unsung triumphs of the last Parliament,” Cameron will say.

“A whole series of things that used to involve complicated paperwork can now be done online – from registering to vote to paying your taxes.

“Part of the issue is our mentality. When a business uses technology to deliver more for less, it’s regarded as a good thing. But when government does it, it’s too often just badged as cuts.”

Budget boost for SMEs

Cameron wants to create what he calls a “smarter state” in which the government will open up government contracts. The government has already promised to increase the proportion of spending with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from 25% to 33%, and Cameron will re-iterate his support for opening up contracts to SMEs.

In the spending review, George Osborne is due to outline £20bn of cuts. In an effort to streamline services, the prime minister will also announce that the government will introduce legislation to combine back-office processes, IT and procurement across the police, fire and ambulance services.

The idea was first floated by former fire minister Brandon Lewis in March 2014, when he said the blue light services needed to collaborate on procurement and share services; and again in September 2014 by home secretary Theresa May, when she argued that the service need to be “integrated” to reduce spending.

Police and crime commissioners will take over the control of fire and rescue services, with the Mayor taking control in London. In some localities, work has already begun to join up emergency services.  

The fire services in particular has a checkered history when it comes to procurement and IT. In 2010, the government shelved its costly FiReControl project, which aimed to replace its 46 emergency response centres with nine regional centres equipped with new technology. The project, which began in 2004, was scrapped in 2010 due to lack of IT and procurement skills after spending £225m.

The prime minister will also announce plans to reform public services – especially social services and child protection – and major devolution in spending and powers across transport, education and health. 

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