Osborne puts IT at heart of £20bn savings plan

A plan to save Whitehall £20billion was hatched in Autumn Statement 2014 by chancellor George Osborne, who has put digital transformation, outsourcing and IT at its heart.

Released after his speech, the five-year plan suggests the pace of departments centralising IT, buying IT that “works together” and moving IT services to the Cloud will quicken.

The first objectives affecting the public are in 2016, when digital uptake of government e-services should have risen by 10%, and a new ‘common payments platform’ should be live.

Between then and now, the Cabinet Office controls on IT contracts will be kept in place as departments shrink their IT functions via outsourcing, or internal ways such as by merging.  

But under the £20bn plan, which includes non-IT ways to save like cutting office space per state employee from 10 to 8 metres, the workload of IT outsourcers won’t grow in all areas.

For example, G-Cloud suppliers and the Crown Hosting Service will be used to “accelerate the move” online of some departmental IT services that are currently provided physically. 

Stronger cyber security  in citizens’ digital services will be required, however, as will “more digitally skilled people”  in government to support departments’ digital capabilities.

Seeming aware that departments have struggled to attract digital and IT skills, the Treasury wants to build “regional centres of excellence” for digital skills via ‘hubs’ across the country.

It’s vital for the plan because Whitehall’s digitisation has so far created “hundreds of millions of pounds” in savings, and now billions are hinted at during the plan’s two phases, 2017-18 and 2019-20.

Aside from the efficiency savings, the aim of the government’s digital strategy is to “move from just putting services online to a ‘government as a platform’ digital model,” the Treasury said.

The Verify programme on .gov.uk for example will check identities so people can use e-services, while a new appointments platform will let face-to-face appointments (such as driving tests and visa interviews) be booked by people.

Plus, every new digital service will be available via an application programming interface and a web browser, so the private sector can integrate its services with the state’s.

The same strong online focus will extend to civil servants’ technology, which if it is the “most modern” and internet-based, can “more than halve the cost” of providing ICT to them.

Meanwhile, a new post among their ranks will be created to succeed in the digital change – that of ‘Government Chief Data Officer’, who will set data standards for the public sector.

The government believes such an appointment is necessary if it is to achieve its goal, stated in the plan, of ensuring that 90 per cent of the online public are using its e-services by 2020.

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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