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Data has the potential to transform public services, Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock has told the National Digital Conference 2016 (ND16).
He said a data-driven approach will enable a series of benefits, such as more timely interventions for “troubled families dealing with multiple government agencies” and automatic discounts off energy bills.
The Digital Economy Bill, which aims to make the UK a world leader in the digital economy, “will ensure that shared information can improve public services reduce fraud and improve the statistics we rely on”, added Hancock.
“This is done in a way that supports privacy and strengthens trust, but also ensures that society benefits from the opportunities of data science,” he said.
In the Queen’s Speech earlier in 2016, the government announced it would launch a consultation on better sharing of publically held datasets “to improve service delivery while maintaining safeguards on privacy”, as well as giving the UK Statistics Authority “easier secure access to data to produce more timely and more accurate” statistics.
Hancock said that data should be treated as a “public service in its own right rather than an afterthought”.
Commenting on the recent voter registration website crash, he stated that due to data, the government knew “very quicky exactly what was wrong and we could fix it”.
“It means we knew exactly how many people had been trying to get on to the system before it crashed, and with that information we could make the case for emergency legislation to increase the deadline for those who had the right to register but couldn’t,” said Hancock.
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Digital skills needed
A National Audit Office (NAO) report published in December 2015 revealed a concerning digital skills gap in government. The Government Digital Service (GDS) already has a digital and technology fast stream programme to develop “the tech savvy leaders of the future” and are working with senior civil servants to increase skills, but Hancock said that the entire civil service need to add digital to their skillset.
Another report by the Science and Technology Committee showed that the lack of skills across the UK is costing the economy £63bn a year.
The Digital Skills Crisis report said although the government has done well in putting in place “effective interventions” in the previous parliament by introducing the computing curriculum in schools and encouraging take-up of digital apprenticeships, it needs to do more.
Hancock told the audience at the ND16 conference that the challenge of technological disruption “is that its effects are spread unevenly”.
“My argument is that we won’t capture the full benefits of all this innovation if we don’t help people to manage the change. It’s easier to upgrade to the latest device than upgrading to the latest skills,” he said.
“That means continuing to invest in basic digital skills, delivering on our commitment to support one million people to get online, driving forward our massive expansion of apprenticeships, and getting all young people earning or learning.”
Hancock also spoke of working with businesses to retrain workers and ensure no one gets left behind. “To fully exploit the transformative potential of new technology we too have to change the way we work,” he said.