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Science and Technology Committee slams government digital strategy delays

Science and Technology Committee chairman says he is “disappointed” that the government has still not published its digital transformation strategy

Science and Technology Committee chairman Stephen Metcalfe has written to digital minister Matt Hancock criticising the government for failing to publish its digital transformation strategy.

He also criticised the government for taking six months to submit a response to the select committee’s digital skills crisis report, which was published in June 2016.

“Our disappointment over such a long delay is compounded by the continued absence of the government’s long-promised digital strategy, because much of the focus of our report was that digital strategy,” Metcalfe said in his letter to Hancock.

The strategy, which has been delayed repeatedly, is, according to the government, 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.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has yet to publish a strategy since being awarded a £450m budget in the November 2015 government spending review. The strategy has been delayed several times. In March 2016, the then digital minister, Ed Vaizey, told a select committee hearing that the strategy was written and ready to go, but the government had to delay publication because of the EU referendum.

The government then promised to publish the strategy by Christmas, but - as revealed by Computer Weekly - that was also pushed back and there is still no sign of its appearance.

In his letter, Metcalfe said he failed to understand why the government was dragging its feet both with regard to the strategy and its response to the committee’s skills crisis report.

“I would be grateful for your assessment of the reasons why the response has taken so long to finalise and why the strategy continues to be a work in progress nearly a year after your predecessor considered it already largely completed,” he said.

“It would be helpful also to have any indication you could give us of when the strategy is likely to be published.”

A draft version of the strategy, seen by Computer Weekly, shows an ambitious “end-to-end transformation”, but potential problems could arise from its reliance on buy-in from Whitehall departments, several of which have previously been hostile to GDS’s involvement.

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.

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