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Cross-Government Functions and Digital Delivery

Volume 699: debated on Thursday 22 July 2021

The covid-19 pandemic has strained our country’s resilience like nothing we have seen out of wartime, and the public have endured huge sacrifices. Our mission now is to respond by transforming the country for the better, levelling up, and making opportunity more equal. To achieve these changes, Government must be reformed.

The recently published “Declaration on Government Reform”, set out a plan for the renewal and rewiring of Government, as a means to deliver the better Britain that the public demands and deserves. As part of its focus on improving performance, the declaration committed to improving the cross-Government functions and strengthening standards and spending controls, to ensure the Government are delivering both excellence and value for money.

The Government are today publishing two independent and separate reports which each contain recommendations on how to improve the cross-Government functions and digital delivery. These two reports are:

1. A review of the cross-cutting functions and the operation of spend controls, by the right hon. Lord Maude of Horsham; and

2. Organising for digital delivery report presented to the Digital Economy Council.

Lord Maude’s advice and the “Organising for Digital Delivery” report presented to the Digital Economy Council are critical to driving reform activity within the cross-Government functions, and the reports were invaluable input in finalising the commitments and actions in the declaration.

Lord Maude’s recommendations are centred around a strong functional model with three essential elements of leadership, capability and mandate. Strong progress is being made on the functional reform activity, overseen by myself and Lord Agnew, and a board chaired by Alex Chisholm, the chief operating officer for the civil service. Some examples of progress so far include:

New leadership put in place for the digital data and technology function, as announced in January this year. This included the establishment of the central digital and data office to work with the Government digital service and lead the digital, data and technology function for Government, also taking on responsibility for the Government automation taskforce.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s publication of its mandate in January, which sets out clearly its own responsibilities and those of departmental accounting officers for major Government projects and programmes. This is critical to making sure they are set up for success from the outset, supporting the Government to meet their ambitions.

Steps have been taken to strengthen spending controls, and increase their reach and effectiveness. More organisations are now in scope and the controls are being applied more consistently within Departments.

Lord Maude’s report advises on the need to set in train (or complete, where already underway) assessment and accreditation programmes; multiple functions are actively exploring how this should be achieved. Investment in professional expertise, recognising its importance, will be an integral part of Government functions. For example, the training and accreditation of contract managers across Government is being led by the Government commercial function, which is critical to driving excellent value for money for taxpayers.

We are implementing a programme of modernisation to strengthen and unify the communications profession across Government, to provide more efficient, responsive and effective communication which delivers Government priorities with one voice. This will build fulfilling careers for people and allow us to attract and develop the best talent.

The shared services strategy for Government was published in March 2021. Following Lord Maude’s advice, and working across Government, a core element of the strategy is the plan to consolidate all back office services into a maximum of five centres. This will achieve better quality services for staff, better people data and reduced cost, encouraging greater collaboration and improving interoperability across Government.

Copies of both reports have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.