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Government publishes strategy for 'digital by default' public services

Revamped online services and staff training are among the actions set out in the strategy

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The UK Cabinet Office has today published its Government Digital Strategy, which lays out how the government can make up to £1.2 billion worth of savings by 2015 by making public services “digital by default”.

By making it easier for people to do things like pay their car tax, book driving tests, complete tax returns, or apply for their state pension online, the Cabinet Office reckons that it could also deliver £1.7 billion a year in savings beyond 2015.

The strategy consists of 14 actions that government will take to become digital by default – whereby digital services are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use digital services will choose to do so, while those who can’t are not excluded.

These actions include redesigning the 152 services that handle over 100,000 transactions each year. These services will be operated by a “skilled, experienced and empowered” service manager, who will be accountable for their quality and able to iterate them based on user feedback.

Seven Whitehall departments – HM Revenue and Customs, the Department for Transport, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Home Office – will be the first to start redesigning their services.

By the end of 2012, each of these departments will have identified three significant services with over 100,000 transactions a year for digital transformation, and all new or redesigned transactional services going live after April 2014 will have to meet a new digital-by-default service standard.

The strategy also sets out plans to improve digital skills across the Civil Service, which the government admits have been lacking until now. The Government Digital Service will work with Civil Service Learning to develop digital awareness training, and all departments will have a digital leader on their executive boards.

The transition to the one-stop GOV.UK website has also been highlighted as a priority. Between November 2012 and March 2013, the corporate publishing activities of all 24 central government departments will move onto GOV.UK, with agency and arm’s length bodies’ online publishing to follow by March 2014.

The Government Digital Service has also said it will extend the range of platforms it supports beyond digital publishing to data insight, identity assurance and further common platform components. Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office will lead the delivery of a new suite of common technology platforms which will underpin the new digital services.

Other measures include offering a leaner and more lightweight tendering processes to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to access the government procurement market, and removing legislative barriers which prevent the development of straightforward and convenient digital services.

However, the strategy also highlights the necessity of providing consistent services for people who have rarely or never been online. This means that people will still be able to access services offline, and the government will provide additional ways for them to use the digital services.

For example, departments may use contact centres to provide another way for people to access simpler transactional services. For more complex transactions, departments may use a mix of face to face, phone and paper support.

“Britain is in a global race and that’s why we need to have modern, efficient, digital-by-default public services that are fit for the 21st century,” said Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude.

“Building world-class government digital services will take time but the publication of this strategy just a fortnight after the launch of GOV.UK is an important milestone.”

He added that digital services are more convenient and more efficient than paper-based options, saving taxpayers both money and time.

“Online transactions can be 20 times cheaper than by phone, 30 times cheaper than face-to-face, and up to 50 times cheaper than by post,” said Maude.

The publication of the Digital Strategy fulfils a commitment in June’s Civil Service Reform Plan. The strategy has been developed using digital tools, with civil servants working alongside software developers, content editors and designers using open source digital version control systems.



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