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Government Digital Service

Volume 592: debated on Wednesday 11 February 2015

The Washington Post hailed the UK as

“setting the gold standard of digital government”,

and the Obama Administration have created a digital service modelled on our own. The Australian Government announced the same in January this year. The New Zealand Government have taken the source code from gov.uk and used it for their own online presence. Last October, we celebrated the 1 billionth visit to gov.uk.

The Government Digital Service has been one of the unsung success stories of the Government, and it has been introduced smoothly and successfully. There have been none of the mess-ups that occurred on previous IT projects, which has meant that it has not had the public attention it deserves. What further services does the Minister foresee digitising to save taxpayers’ money and improve services for the public?

We have already saved a great deal of money and improved services for citizens, and we are beginning to roll out much better technology in government, so that civil servants are helped by the technology they have rather than hindered by it. There is much more to do. We inherited some extremely expensive, cumbersome and unwieldy IT contracts, and for one of them the Department had to pay £30,000 to change one word on a website. That is not acceptable; it is no way to treat taxpayers’ money; and it is going to change.

The Government Digital Service is a very talented group within the Cabinet Office and is internationally recognised, so it is unfortunate that the Minister has prevented the group from working with local government. On Monday, the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy said that he agreed with me and Labour’s independent digital government review that this expertise should not be barred from working with local authorities. Will the Minister now concede that GDS should be allowed and encouraged to work more closely with councils, so that we have digital services that work for everyone—locally and nationally?

The hon. Lady is completely right to flag up the huge scope for improvement in online services in local government. GDS’s focus has had to be on central Government, but in the document on efficiency and reform that we published at the time of the autumn statement, we flagged up that we expect this to be available across the wider public sector. The focus for the time being has to be on finishing the job in central Government, but helping to build an equivalent to support local government is a very high priority for us.