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Government delays release of digital transformation strategy until new year

Sources say strategy is “ready to go”, but GDS is working with government departments to “embed” it further

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is to delay publishing its Government Transformation Strategy further, despite promising that it would be issued before Christmas.

The strategy is intended to “take digital transformation further than ever before” by prioritising an overhaul of the civil service, including breaking down silos, changing back-office processes and systems, and increasing collaboration.

According to Computer Weekly sources, the strategy document is “ready to go”, and no further changes are due to be made to the final version. However, Computer Weekly understands that GDS is working with departments and project teams further to fully “embed” the new strategy under director general Kevin Cunnington’s plan to make the rest of Whitehall more involved in digital transformation.

This follows Cunnington’s previous comments that “you have to expect [GDS] to change” and that ultimately “it is the departments who deliver”. 

A Cabinet Office spokesperson confirmed that the strategy was being delayed and would be “published in due course”, but declined to comment further.

GDS has yet to publish a strategy since being awarded a £450m budget in the November 2015 government spending review. A strategy was due to be released before the end of last year, but was delayed several times, most recently because of the EU referendum. 

When Cunnington was named the new director general of GDS in August 2016, the strategy remained unpublished, and he worked on developing a new plan, which was promised to be published before Christmas.

A draft version of the strategy, seen by Computer Weekly, shows an ambitious “end-to-end transformation”, where potential problems could arise from the reliance on buy-in from Whitehall departments, several of which have previously been hostile to GDS’s involvement. In a recent interview, Cunnington admitted that relations had sometimes been “adversarial”.

Read more about the digital strategy

A background document, also seen by Computer Weekly, said that under the strategy, GDS would continue to provide “leadership, support and expertise” to departments as they worked to transform public services. The organisation would also scrutinise departmental plans on digital and technology spend.

“We will seek to bring earlier engagement on spending plans between departments and GDS, so that support can be provided at the most useful point,” the document said.

The document references a further report associated with the strategy, entitled The role of GDS, which suggests further details on the future of the organisation will be published along with the final strategy in the new year.

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This is code for "We know what we want to do but the  Departments of State will not agree". Each e-Envoy went round this loop. Unless Theresa May gives more backing to the Cabinet Office IT / Digital / "Modernisation" enthusiasts than did tony Blair, Gordon Brown or David Cameron, we can expect the GDS to have to agree to address the needs of the Departments of State and not vice versa.
Just maybe the "Departments of State" are at last questioning GDS whose record is poor at best. They have failed to research new proven capabilities that save money. This is all explained in my submission to PACAC here
Truly shocking such savings ignored and my evidence with National Audit Office.
It was Gordon Brown who shut down in 2003 Government research unit in Norwich and policy was that suppliers expected to do best for taxpayer....hard to believe but true! Since then all "innovation" initiatives under ICT Futures failed allowing GDS to build an empire built on sand (unsupported marketing messages). Government have failed to achieve intelligent customer status in buying digital software capability and hopefully NAO will investigate.
I would expect a whole slew of court cases from blind users who cannot access government services this way.already some government departments have fines imposed on them as they had shut phone centres in favour of self-serve.

Imagine the madness of the telecomunications regulator not having a phone centre?