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Technological Innovation

Volume 646: debated on Wednesday 12 September 2018

3. What steps he is taking to encourage technological innovation in tackling social challenges and delivering public services. (906830)

4. What steps he is taking to encourage technological innovation in tackling social challenges and delivering public services. (906831)

I am determined that the public sector embraces the huge opportunities for better public services at lower cost provided by technology. That is why last week I announced five new public sector challenges from the GovTech innovation fund and why I am also leading the development of a public services innovation strategy to be published next spring.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Over the summer I wrote to all my 37 care homes and GP practices and visited most of them. They are facing unprecedented challenges with recruitment and retention. How will technology help in that regard?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that she is committed to this issue. We, too, are committed to using emerging technologies to improve the quality of care for patients and to empower staff. Under one of the GovTech challenges last week, we are working with a healthcare trust to ensure prescriptions are not interrupted when people move between care providers and, as Members will have seen, my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is also very much committed to this agenda.

I welcome what my hon. Friend is doing in this area, but what steps are the Government taking to harness the power of technology to help to tackle the problem of loneliness, which the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, the Prime Minister and Members across this House have done so much to highlight?

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. Under the GovTech innovation fund, in collaboration with Monmouthshire County Council, we are working to investigate a solution to identify vehicles with spare capacity to tackle loneliness and rural isolation. That is another example of the great potential of technology to help to alleviate loneliness across society and to support people in having meaningful social relationships.

At the weekend, I visited the Clipper, a converted pub on Union Street in Plymouth that is using crowdfunding technology in conjunction with the local authority, Plymouth City Council, to raise money for a refit. What support is the Minister giving to local authorities and communities to use new technologies to raise funds, especially in a time of austerity?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I would be happy to discuss the example that he has raised. Local authorities have frequently bid for these GovTech funds. As I said, Monmouthshire County Council has been successful, as have local authorities in Northern Ireland, and I encourage others to make a bid when the next round opens shortly.

What progress is being made to ensure that my constituents can claim universal credit online through the medium of Welsh?

The Government Digital Service is committed to ensuring full accessibility to all public services, including in our home nation languages, and it will certainly look into that point.

My hon. Friend will be aware that, across the public service, appointments are being missed with experts including general practitioners, consultants, nurses and employment advisers. Is there a role for technology in prompting members of the public to attend these expensive and important appointments?

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely correct, and this is a perfect example of how we can use technology. Indeed, in my experience many GP surgeries already use methods such as text messages to prompt people not to miss their appointments. He will have seen from recent announcements that the Health Secretary is genuinely committed, as are the Government, to investing large sums in the greater use of technology in healthcare.

The Government’s record on technical and digital innovation is appalling. Their flagship Verify system is so flawed that the NHS and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have both rejected it. Having spent six years and £130 million of public money developing the system, the Government cannot even convince their own Departments to register. Judging by this dismal record, does the Minister agree that the only technological innovation this Government can stimulate will be overdue, over budget and under-performing?

Specifically on Verify, I would urge the hon. Lady not to read everything that is being speculated on in the newspapers. The Government are committed to ensuring secure online digital identities, and Verify has already delivered for 2.7 million people. More broadly, let us take the example of, which has had 5.1 billion sessions and 15.2 billion page views. That did not happen when the Labour party was in power. Let us also take the example of Notify, which is used by hundreds of organisations. The Government Digital Service is a genuine innovation of this Government, and it is delivering seamless services across Government Departments.