Francis Maude speech to FT Innovate Conference

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude made a speech at the FT Innovate Conference about government services and digital revolution.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Lord Maude of Horsham

We can all list the many positive benefits of the digital revolution -

The plummeting costs of technology;

The massive consumer choice;

The wide array of innovation - which has transformed our working and social lives.

So what happened when it came to government services?

In the last decade our IT costs have gone up - while our services remained patchy. According to some estimates, we spend more on IT per capita than any other government.

The same people who do their shopping, banking and social networking online - are still interacting with government on the phone, in person or on paper - at less convenience to them and more cost to us.

And furthermore Whitehall has failed to exploit its huge reserves of valuable data - which in a digital age can drive new economic and social growth.

It was a bad deal for everyone. Bad for the taxpayer who funded our big, costly IT failures. Bad for service users unable to access services quickly and conveniently. Bad for innovative businesses consistently locked out of government business.

This gvernment has made it a priority to bring Whitehall into the 21st century. We are determined to become digital by default - and make government IT synonymous with easy-to-use cost effective services.

We are changing the way we procure and run our services - opening up to a wider group of innovative businesses and business models.

And we are putting vast tracts of valuable public sector raw data in the public domain for entrepreneurs and businesses to work with - building an information marketplace.

Digital government

No one denies the scale of this challenge. While the best of the private sector has grasped all the opportunities of a digital age - we have lagged behind.

This audience probably doesn’t need reminding that the vast majority of the UK population - 82% - are online.

The private sector have long been catering for this - these days British Airways does everything online that isn’t about flying aeroplanes.

Government provides more than 650 transactional services, used about 1 billion times every year - but presently there are only a handful where a large majority of people who could use the online option do so.

Half don’t offer a digital option at all - and apart from a handful of services, if there is a digital option few people use it because it’s not a sufficiently fast or convenient option.

In some cases users try online and then have to revert back to other channels - in 2011 around 150million calls coming into government were self-reported as avoidable.

This leaves us with a situation where, for example, three-quarters of people use the internet for car insurance, but only half buy car tax online.

This is simply not good enough - particularly not today when there is less money as we pay off the huge deficit this government inherited and we are driving efficiency savings across the public sector.

Today the Cabinet Office is publishing a Digital Efficiency Report which finds that the average cost of a central government digital transaction can be almost twenty times lower than the cost of telephone and thirty times lower than face-face.

But this is not just about savings - consumer expectations for services are rising. As this audience knows - digital is not just another channel, it is the delivery choice for this generation.

It’s our responsibility to follow the example of the private sector and go to people where they are - not wait for them to come to us.

And that means we need to build fast, clear, simple digital services - so people will choose to use them.

We’re making progress. Last month I launched government’s new single web domain GOV.UK - which is a simpler, clearer and faster way for users to find government services and information online.

GOV.UK has been planned, written and designed around what users need to get done, not around the ways government want them to do it.

Our initial testing comparing GOV.UK to the previous Directgov and Businesslink sites shows a more positive rating on both ease of use - 93% compared with 75% before. And speed - 80 seconds as opposed to 120 seconds to undertake comparable transactions.

It is also expected to save an estimated £36 million a year. And eventually when all departmental sites are converged into GOV.UK, we expect annual savings of between £50 and £70 million.

I am also publishing figures today that show we are making progress on reducing the incomprehensibly large number of government websites - down from 424 to 350 in the last year. For example we closed a site dedicated to British mosquitoes - no doubt mosquitoes is a serious issue. We just didn’t feel it warranted a whole website.

Digital by Default strategy

But this is just the start of the digital transformation of government. A transformation that will see us redesign public services around user needs not internal needs.

This won’t happen overnight - it requires a huge culture change across Whitehall.

We know every other industry which has transformed itself to survive and prosper in a digital age, from BA to Barclays, Amazon to M&S, has done so with innovative, entrepreneurial leadership driving those businesses. Government has to do the same.

And as set out in our recent Civil Service Reform plan - we need the right digital capabilities and skills to be embedded at every level of the civil service.

Today the Cabinet Office is publishing a new cross-Government Digital Strategy - an action plan for making us digital by default in our skills, style, the way we communicate and how we deliver services.

It sets out that departmental boards must have digital leaders providing active, effective, empowered leadership to deliver future departmental Digital Strategies.

Services handling over 100,000 transactions a year will be re-designed, operated and improved by skilled, experienced Service Managers.

The Government Digital Service will be publishing a Digital by Default service standard that will describe what services must achieve - and they will be setting deadlines with Departments for when services must be redesigned.

And in the future all departments will have the specialist capability to assess and manage their portfolio of digital services and we will support this with training run by the Government Digital Service.

At the same time as we push through these reforms, and raise awareness of our improved digital services to the public -

We will continue to ensure every single government service is available to everyone.

We understand that not everyone is online. And we will make sure that those people can still use our services - and we will offer other ways to access them.

To develop the most appropriate approach on this we are working across government and with organisations who work with those who are offline.

None of this will be easy - but it will be worth it.

We estimate that by shifting the transactional services offered by central government departments from offline to digital channels we can make £1.2billion of potential savings from now until 2015 and up to £1.7 billion a year beyond 2015.

Open government

Of course you can’t help asking - why hasn’t government done this before? Why have we spent so much money on government IT - as much as £20bn a year based on some estimates - and failed to deliver efficient, digital, user-focused services?

For too long in Whitehall it was a case of big is beautiful. IT projects were too big, lengthy, risky and complex - plagued by budget overruns, delays and failures. Contracts were consistently awarded to a limited number of very large suppliers on long-term, exclusive contracts.

At the moment departments can be asked to pay £15,000 to change a single word on a website because they are locked into legacy contracts negotiated at a time when the digital capacity lay almost entirely outside government.

This is changing. We are moving away from legacy IT and our reliance on a few large System integrators. And introducing smaller contracts; shorter terms; a more diverse supplier community that is welcoming to SMEs; open standards; open source; more use of commodity. These are the new parameters.

This government has set out an aspiration for a quarter of our business to go - directly or indirectly - to SMEs by 2015. As part of this we will create a more competitive and open marketplace for buying IT services and solutions.

In the future we will procure technical infrastructure such as servers and internet hosting as commodity services. The Cloudstore framework is an example of this shift with over 300 suppliers offering cloud-based solutions on a pay-as-you-go-basis with a maximum 12 months contract. Many of these suppliers are SMEs.

And today’s Strategy sets out that we will build upon existing procurement reform to develop new commissioning arrangements for digital projects to encourage a wider range of bidders from our burgeoning digital technology sector.

This will be supported by last week’s publication of our Open Standards Principles, which will improve competition for government contracts, allowing us to open up to a larger number of suppliers and encourage innovation in government IT.

We have consulted widely on this. And 64% of respondents stated that the government’s proposed policy would benefit their organisation. While nearly 70 per cent of our respondents stated that the proposed policy would improve innovation, competition and choice in the provision of government services.

Open data

Our Digital by Default Strategy will therefore open up opportunities to innovative businesses who’ve been locked out of government work before.

Today I also want to talk about our commitment to open government and open data - which also opens up opportunities for innovative businesses.

In the past governments kept their data under lock and key - and much of it went unanalysed, unused and under-valued.

We are at the start of a global movement towards transparency - the demand for openness is unstoppable and new technology has made it irresistible.

This government is hugely committed to this movement - we believe transparency will be a defining characteristic of future public policy. And the UK is leading the World in making more and more data freely available.

We have just taken over as Lead Co-Chair of the international Open Government Partnership - and we’re keen to showcase to countries around the world that putting raw data out in the public domain drives economic growth as well as social development.

Since the last General Election the UK government has committed to making more and more data freely available. Our web portal Data.gov.uk is now the largest data resource in the world with over 40,000 data files.

This will have a transformative effect on our public services, giving people choices they’ve never had before and driving improvements.

But data isn’t just about better services - it’s also big business. Transparency is providing the raw material for innovative research and new business ventures. A nascent market of SMEs in particular is ready and waiting to exploit the data we release and turn it into an enterprise opportunity.

The UK has made world leading commitments to publish data from all 5,000 of our weather stations, real time transport information, NHS data to promote life sciences research, house price data and many more valuable datasets.

We have also established an Open Data User Group which will reach out to all of those who use, or want to use, government Open Data and provide a funnel into government for new requests to make data open.

This group has a formal role in advising our new Data Strategy Board on priorities for the release of open data including data from the Public Data Group group of Trading Funds - currently, the Met Office, Ordnance Survey, Land Registry and Companies House.

And we have just released a form on data.gov.uk for businesses and individuals to highlight those datasets which would be the best to release for free. These recommendations will be taken to government departments and the Data Strategy Board later this month - and it’s well worth businesses getting involved in this.

Later this year we will also launch our new Open Data Institute led by the inventor of the World-Wide-Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt of the University of Southampton.

The Institute will focus on ‘incubating’ start-ups that believe they can harness Open Data as well as providing training for individuals on how public data can be analysed, published and commercialised. It’s a great opportunity for innovative businesses and entrepreneurs to grasp Open Data opportunities.


As I said at the beginning the public sector has really lagged behind the private sector when it came to exploiting new technologies, new innovations - and the data opportunity in a Digital Age. We are not now where we need to be.

But we do intend to catch up - in fact we intend to set a standard for other governments. We will make public services agile, flexible and digital by default. We will open up to new ideas, new businesses - we will open up our data reserves.

And this digital-savvy government will benefit service users, benefit businesses and benefit the taxpayer.

This country deserves a 21st century government - it’s a huge challenge but one we’re determined to meet.

Published 6 November 2012