More generally, spreading standards across the public sector will require a judicious mixture of working adaptively and stronger incentives. GDS can be an influential node in the network by virtue of its ability to speak on digital issues for central government as a whole. It can both work with those who are open to change, such as the network of 19 local authorities that have developed a local version of the GDS Digital Government Standard, and also explore ways to spread standards through regulation, including by learning from other sectors, such as retail banking.
22IMPROVING THE MANAGEMENT OF DIGITAL GOVERNMENT Learning from bankingIn 2016, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) concluded an investigation into retail banking. The CMA was concerned that it was too difficult for the banks’ customers to understand the costs of products, such as current accounts, and this meant that customers did not readily switch bank accounts, reducing competition in the sector. As a remedy, the CMA required retail banks to agree and use a standard open API.76This will allow customers to compare the prices of banks’ products, such as current accounts, and new services to be built by third parties. Services that meet citizens’ needsDigital technology is not an end in itself, but rather provides tools that help services to better meet citizens’ needs. It is these needs, rather than technology, which need to be the starting point in thinking about services.77Even while policy is likely to continue to be organised mainly in domains such as ‘education’, ‘health’ and ‘justice’, there are many issues, such as mental health, that cross departmental boundaries, and many life events, such as registering a new baby, that are not fully addressed by one organisation. Even if the GDS Digital Service Standard is applied, within the constraints of one department or public body, user research will tend to be limited by the services that that department or public body can provide.The Government Transformation Strategyrecognises that existing departmental boundaries do not correspond with people’s needs. It argues that the Transforming Together network (a group of leaders across the civil service working to transform government so that it works better for citizens and businesses) and the Transformation Peer Group (a group of senior transformation leaders from around government that has oversight of the major transformation programmes) could support more joint work.78We agree that these help, but more is needed.At present, it is very difficult for business cases for spending, which require Treasury approval, to be developed across more than one Whitehall department. Our interviewees identified this as a major barrier.Recommendation 6:The Treasury should work with GDS to consider which life events, such as registering a birth or selling a house, could benefit from new services, and fund their development.
23IMPROVING THE MANAGEMENT OF DIGITAL GOVERNMENT8. PrioritiesBrexit will put serious strain on government. The Conservative Party’s 2017 manifesto adds some ambitious digital commitments. Prioritisation is essential.