Government urged to find ‘digital champion’ to lead reforms across Whitehall

The Government has been urged to create a new digital transformation minister role to lead a team across the Cabinet Office and Treasury that accelerates reforms in Whitehall.

Public affairs advisory firm Global Counsel has published a new report setting out a number of recommendations for government to accelerate digital transformation in the run-up to the next UK general election. 

John Gieve, former permanent secretary at the Home Office contributed to theimages report, alongside multiple government officials, think tanks and business organisations. He said the development of digital technology "offers a real
prospect for the transformation of performance across the whole of government."

Among the recommendations suggested by the report is the creation of a new ‘digital champion’ who would lead change from the centre, and provide the Central Digital and Data Office with “sufficient weight from a relevant Minister to push the agenda forward." The idea being that this would resolve tensions between central functions and individual departments, where there is often a resistance to centrally imposed agendas and technical solutions due to competing priorities. 

The report also considers the barriers created through legacy technology and an inability to effectively share data between Whitehall departments, as well as ways in which innovative technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), might be deployed. Against this backdrop, it recommends that government utilise the potential of digital twins for managing government spending, speed up legacy IT replacement and introduce a framework for data sharing across government. 

'Uniquely placed to benefit'   

In setting out its recommendations, the report warns that the government might fail to achieve its aims of improving productivity and becoming a world technology if it does not prioritise technological advancement. 

Gieve said government is “uniquely placed to benefit from these technologies” with the capacity they bring to connect and use the huge banks of data which departments collect and generate. However, to do this most effectively he said government needs to join up different sources of data and work across traditional departmental boundaries. 

“It is clear that we have not invested sufficiently to take full advantage of the technological advances we have seen in the last two decades,” Gieve said. This is now even more urgent with the development of Large Language Models and of Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI), he added. 

Delivering tailored public services

The Government Digital Service has been developing the One Login platform - a ‘one stop-shop’ for digital services. However, the report suggests government take a more ambitious step in public service delivery by creating a “no-stop-shop,” where government actively identifies people who qualify for support.

“Departments could utilise pooled and shared data to identify these people, removing the need for action from citizens or civil servants and enhancing digital resilience,” the report says. 

The UK can learn from other countries. In Austria, for example, the government introduced Automatic Family Allowances without application for new-born children. The data of citizens is stored in several interacting registers and these agencies deliver their respective services to parents automatically.

To achieve this ‘no-stop-shop’ approach, “there needs to be a major effort to standardise where possible across government,” the report said. Definitions and data classifications need to be harmonised to realise the data sharing and analytic advantages, including large language models.

AI and LLMs are expected to play an important tool by which public services can be provided more proactively as it can more accurately and more quickly determine who is entitled to services. 

HMT CDO John Kelly said generative AI could have a transformative effect on correspondence, using a transformer model to assess incoming letters, assign responses to the right teams within the department and recommend standards

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