In a major report on distributed ledgers published today (19 January 2016), the Government Chief Scientist, Sir Mark Walport, sets out how this technology could transform the delivery of public services and boost productivity.
A distributed ledger is a database that can securely record financial, physical or electronic assets for sharing across a network through entirely transparent updates of information.
Its first incarnation was ‘Blockchain’ in 2008, which underpinned digital cash systems such as Bitcoin. The technology has now evolved into a variety of models that can be applied to different business problems and dramatically improve the sharing of information.
Distributed ledger technology could provide government with new tools to reduce fraud, error and the cost of paper intensive processes. It also has the potential to provide new ways of assuring ownership and provenance for goods and intellectual property.
Distributed ledgers are already being used in the diamond markets and in the disbursing of international aid payments.
Sir Mark Walport said:
Distributed ledger technology has the potential to transform the delivery of public and private services. It has the potential to redefine the relationship between government and the citizen in terms of data sharing, transparency and trust and make a leading contribution to the government’s digital transformation plan.
Any new technology creates challenges, but with the right mix of leadership, collaboration and sound governance, distributed ledgers could yield significant benefits for the UK.
The report makes a number of recommendations which focus on ministerial leadership, research, standards and the need for proof of concept trials.
- government should provide ministerial leadership to ensure that it provides the vision, leadership and the platform for distributed ledger technology within government; this group should consider governance, privacy, security and standards
- government should establish trials of distributed ledgers in order to assess the technology’s usability within the public sector
- government could support the creation of distributed ledger demonstrators for local government that will bring together all the elements necessary to test the technology and its application.
- the UK research community should invest in the research required to ensure that distributed ledgers are scalable, secure and provide proof of correctness of their contents
Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey, said:
Government wants to make sure the UK is at the forefront of using emerging technology to improve public services. The UK is well-placed to realise the full potential of this technology, and Sir Mark’s report clearly sets out how we can use these new tools to transform and streamline their delivery.
Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, Matt Hancock, said:
Sir Mark’s report provides a clear set of recommendations and I am delighted we are leading the way.
Digital transformation is central to our reform of the public sector, helping deliver better services at a much lower cost and improving the relationship between the citizen and the state. With our world-class digital capability and strong research community, the UK is well placed to reap the potential benefits of distributed ledger technology.
Notes to editors
- The Government Office for Science ensures that government policies and decisions are informed by the best scientific evidence and strategic long-term thinking.
- View the report ‘Distributed ledger technology: beyond block chain’.