Opportunities for the transformation of government come along roughly once every 10 years it seems. There have been only two significant efforts to drive real transformation in UK government:
- Labour, under Tony Blair, took power in 1997 and in the follow years launched several waves of major change initiatives, particularly for electronic government (building on the last gasp of the previous administrations “Government Direct” paper). The original 1997 pronouncement said:
- “by 2002, 25% of dealings with Government should be capable of being done by the public electronically, that 50% of dealings should be capable of electronic delivery by 2005 and 100% by 2008”
- The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took over in 2010 and we saw the creation of GDS and spend controls. Key pronouncements there included:
- The Coalition Government is determined to do things better. Government ICT is vital for the delivery of efficient, cost-effective public services which are responsive to the needs of citizens and businesses.
- Digitising transactional services will save people and businesses time and money; by making transactions faster, reducing the number of failed transactions and simplifying the end-to-end process.
There were many iterations of those pronouncements during their years in power, but the big changes happened early in the life of each administration – the point at which energy, impetus and political capital are all at their highest.
As the administration gets older, the pronouncements get ever more tired and you can almost see the ambition evaporate. Gerry Gavigan published a “short history of government digital strategies” back in 2012 which is as good a summary as you could ask for.
GDS’ most recent announcement pushes the timeframe for any meaningful change back to 2030, to wit Alison Pritchard’s barnstorming:
“Government in 2030 will be joined up, trusted and responsive to user needs … This is the closest I have seen for quite a while to articulating the end goal for what we are trying to achieve”
Which all suggests that we could need a new administration to inject vigour and energy into making real change happen. 10 more years to achieve what we have been working on for 20 years already? 30 year transformation programmes? We need a change of plan and approach.