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UK’s Digital Governance Services Falling Behind Demands

Michael Behr

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Digital Governance Services

The Commission for Smart Government has warned that failure to build on early successes in digital governance is undermining faith in government institutions.

A new report has warned that the UK’s digital governance services are lagging behind other countries, with major work needed to keep pace with new demands.

The Commission for Smart Government (CSG), established by the Project for Modern Democracy think-tank, said that the UK, which created cutting edge digital governance tools around 2010, has lost its lead in the global ecosystem.

In its discussion paper, Better Digital Government: Obstacles and Vision, the body warned that failure to create better digital services will put trust in the government and the UK’s democratic institutions at risk.

“The digitisation of public services is not just a practical step, a tool, the application of which is neutral. Digitised services can have a negative impact on the way people perceive governments,” the report said.

It added that services “should strive to deliver a positive effect not simply on the issue at hand, be it tax records or vehicle licences, but more broadly, in terms of trust in government and strengthening of society.”

Since the rollout of digital government services, the report noted that new concerns have developed, such as a focus on the use of personal data and the role of algorithms in decision-making. The increased role of digital services in everyday life means that user experience expectations have also increased.

The CSG report identified factors that were holding back the digitisation of public services.

It warned that inadequate leadership and poor governance have downgraded the importance of digital government and occluded responsibilities for digitally-enabled services.

Commercially, digital services are being hampered by an outdated procurement system that is locking in incumbent vendors or creating fake markets that drive up prices, along with an expenditure system that restricts spending.

Limited communication between government institutions was another problem identified in the report, with departments such as HMRC, NHS, and the Home Office needing separate IDs and separate logins. The report noted that there are over 200 transactional services on Gov.UK, with 100 of them requiring some kind of account.

“If Google asked customers to set up a new account each time they wanted to buy a new product – each time providing their personal data – this would rightly be seen as poor service,” the report said.

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The UK Government’s digital practices have come under fire after two high profile failures this year – delays in rolling out the coronavirus test and trace app and problems faced by Ofqual when using an algorithm to deliver A-Level exam results.

Among its recommendations, the paper advised that the government’s digital efforts need to be re-founded on a series of key principles.

“We need digitisation to both deliver the rapid transformation of public services that citizens have witnessed in the private sector when it comes to quality/cost/accessibility and also strengthen the social contract between the government and its electorate – a greater and more difficult goal than faced by the private sector,” the report said.

Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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