Sprint 14: speech by Francis Maude

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude spoke about simpler, clearer and faster digital services at a showcase for digital government.

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

It’s a pleasure to welcome you here today.

I remember how many of us struggled through the snow this time last year to Sprint 13 at the QEII Centre.

Then we set out a bold ambition to make 25 major public services fully digital.

We gave ourselves just 400 working days to deliver this transformation. One year on – 200 working days in – we can reveal some of those digital services for the first time.

This time we’re at the London Film Museum…so perhaps I should subtitle this speech “Close Encounters of the Digital Kind”…or “Honey I Shrunk the Costs.”

In fairness, no one will ever – probably – make a Hollywood film about our work.

People don’t choose to work for government to be famous or rich. They want to make a difference and to contribute to the future of their country.

But actually increasingly our digital agenda is bringing the “wow” factor to how the UK government is viewed especially abroad. We’re showing that it’s possible for government to be at the forefront of innovation.

And we’re showing that it’s possible to make public services better while saving taxpayers’ money – perhaps the holy grail of efficiency.

Today is designed to give you a glimpse of how and why.


When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone he spoke of the icons being so bright and clear that people would want to “lick them right off the screen.”

Well, we didn’t exactly have that in mind when the guys designed the government’s new website, GOV.UK, but the look and feel certainly mattered.

It’s clear, consistent and uncluttered.

That’s why we’re proud it beat off the Shard and the Olympic cauldron to win the coveted – and unsought - Design Museum Award – eat your heart out Thomas Heatherwick.

But design is about more than appearance.

Sir Jonathan Ive, Apple’s British born designer, put it best when he said:

‘The word design is everything and nothing. We think of design as not just the product’s appearance: it’s what the product is and how it works. The design and the product are inseparable.’

So what does that mean for government?

It means putting users at the heart of public services.

Only when you know what people need, how they want it delivered and how they’ll use it do you even begin to think about building the technology.

It’s a theme that runs through this government – whether ensuring the primacy of patients’ needs in the NHS; or designing education services around the requirements of children and parents.

It’s obvious really - but too easily forgotten when bureaucracies become too large, too powerful or too remote.

So digital by default isn’t about swapping paper or telephone based services for digital ones as an end in itself.

Digital-by-default is a change to the whole way we design and deliver services.

A chance to revolutionise public services in the way that eBay and Amazon have revolutionised the marketplace.

And to renew the relationship between citizens and the state…just as Skype has brought people closer together and Facebook keeps people connected.


That’s not to say previous governments haven’t tried.

Back in 1999, the Modernising Government White Paper proposed that half of government services should be delivered electronically by 2005 and all of them by 2008.

But progress was piecemeal to say the least. The old online – in inverted commas - student loan application process ended by printing out a 30 page form to sign and send off by post.

There’s no good reason for government transactions to be that complex. The airline industry contends with numerous complex regulations. Yet you can cut through them all to book a flight with a few clicks.

So how is it different this time?

It’s about delivery.

We’re changing things by doing them, not by talking about them. We’re the JFDI school of government.

We’ve started with a first wave of 25 exemplars. Our objective is to create digital services that are so good, people choose to use them.

Of course, they’re not going to be perfect first time – nor will they ever be. It’s an iterative process. It doesn’t end when the service goes live. It will evolve. The feedback will continue – and so will the refinements.

And the proof of success is whether people use them or not.

Take the Carer’s Allowance for example.

Already 45% of applicants are using our online beta.

This isn’t the result of an expensive marketing campaign to force people to shift.

The service is good enough that people have chosen to use it – voting with their fingers and mice…

We are here today to show, not to tell.

Ministers and senior officials from several government departments are going to demonstrate 5 of our new digital services.

  • registering to vote

  • applying for a visa

  • Pay-As-You Earn services for employees

  • viewing your driving record

  • booking prison visits

These are bread-and-butter transactions that people want to be quick and hassle free, at a time of their convenience, not when it’s convenient for the government.

If we get it right - and we are, as you will see in a few minutes - we will make life better for citizens and businesses. And we will change the way people think about how government works.

Our efforts to rationalise the number of government websites is a case in point.

Previously, departments didn’t keep records. No one had a grip on this. Costs were duplicated and government looked and was fragmented.

But the public shouldn’t need to understand where the role of one department ends and another starts to find the information they need. Which is why every ministerial department has been brought together online under GOV.UK.

Now started transitioning the agency and arm’s length body sites.

And yet closing government websites sometimes feels like a nightmarish game of splat-the-rat. As soon as you knock one website on the head, another pops out somewhere else.

The number keeps going on up as fast and we close them!

Later this week, we will publish our latest quarterly update. Although 19 websites have closed and a further 18 sites have transitioned to GOV.UK since the last update in October, the total number of open central government websites that we’re aware of has risen to 455 - 15 more than the previous report!

There’s absolutely no reason for every single bit of government to have its own unique web presence. So we’re going to press on.

Nearly 300 government websites will migrate to GOV.UK over the coming year. Over a third (111) of these have already moved, but we must finish the remainder, bringing together government information and services in one place, with lower costs and consistent standards and simplicity for the user.

Deficit reduction

Many of you here today have been working to deliver these kinds of transformations.

And there is an adrenaline that comes from doing things differently. So you can take real encouragement and motivation from being part of this.

We can also be proud that digital is one of the major contributions to reducing the deficit and encouraging growth in the British economy.

As the Chancellor highlighted recently, every part of the public sector will continue to need to face up to the challenge of reduced budgets for some time to come.

And we know much more money can be saved – staggering savings potentially – while actually improving quality online.

Last year we saved the taxpayer over £500 million by stopping projects not aligned to our IT spending controls. Digitalising public services could save citizens, the Exchequer and businesses £1.2 billion over the course of this parliament, rising to an estimated £1.7 billion each year after 2015.

The cost of digital transactions is lower for a start – not just a little bit lower, but a lot.

  • 20 times lower than over the phone

  • 30 times lower than by post

  • and 50 times lower than face-to-face

But we’re also changing our whole approach to procuring and running IT.

Previously, the UK government spent more on IT than any other country in Europe except Switzerland, although I think that included the cost of CERN. They were looking for the God Particle – but over here, we were left with an ungodly mess.

In the old world, we were procuring programmes before they had been designed – or over such a long period of time that the technology was out of date before it was delivered.

To re-visit the film metaphor: we were promised “It’s a Wonderful Life”, charged a “Fist Full of Dollars” – and then a “Few Dollars More” - but we were left with “Titanic”.

For too long, big IT and big failures have stalked government. Now we want to see a new world, a start-up world, where what you can do matters most and where value includes both cost and quality.

At the time of the last General Election just 6% of central government procurement spend was with SMEs and government did not even monitor who its suppliers were.

We’ve stripped out unnecessary bureaucracy and paperwork and ensured a level-playing field for all businesses. Now direct spend with SMEs is up above 10% and we are spending a further 9% indirectly. That’s good news for SMEs across Britain but we want to see these numbers grow further.

I am pleased to see Stephen Allott here in the audience today, the Crown Representative for SMEs – he’s done fantastic work in driving the government’s SME agenda forward.

We know the best technology and digital ideas often come from small businesses, but too often in the past they were excluded from government work. There was a sense that if you hired a big multi-national, which everyone knew the name of, you’d never be fired.

We weren’t just missing out on innovation, we were paying top dollar for yesterday’s technology.

One great example of the potential from small businesses was when we retendered a hosting contract. The incumbent big supplier bid £4 million; a UK-based small business offered to do it for £60,000. We saved taxpayers 98.5%.

I don’t think we can make savings of that scale everywhere but hard-working people expect us to try as hard as we possibly can. We’ve published our IT red lines which I will be unashamedly militant about enforcing:

  • no IT contracts will be allowed to exceed £100 million without a powerful reason

  • hosting contracts will not last for more than 2 years –the cost of hosting halves every 18 months, why commit to a longer contract?

  • there will be no automatic contract extensions without a compelling case

  • and companies with a contract for service provision will not be allowed to provide system integration in the same part of government; there is a conflict of interest here, and contracts are too opaque

The whole point is for Whitehall to look beyond the oligopoly IT suppliers - the legacy technology giants.

We want the right technology at the right price for taxpayers - whether that’s from an innovative big supplier which gets the new ways of working with us, or a start-up.

And don’t think British start-ups are all in Tech City. We are seeing clusters springing up right across the country from Northern Ireland to Manchester and Liverpool and Newcastle – this is the future of Britain.

To harness the power of these innovative new companies we’ve created the CloudStore – a whole new concept in IT buying.

An open market where public sector organisations can purchase IT off the shelf. For both government and the companies listed, this means less bureaucracy and less hassle.

The public sector as a whole has already spent more than £78 million through CloudStore. And over half of this – 53% - is going to small and medium-sized firms.

Central government is spending even more with SMEs – two thirds of its purchases on CloudStore, 66%, are going to SMEs.

If we saw as much money going through CloudStore every month as we did this November, the annual spend would be £120 million. That’s a lot of money going through channels specifically designed to be accessible to all businesses, whatever their size.

But we’re not stopping there.

That’s why I’m pleased to set out my ambition today that through the CloudStore and digital services framework we will spend a further £100 million with small businesses offering IT services and technology to government by the next General Election.

SMEs are engines of growth in our economy and this is a massive vote of confidence in the role they are playing to help Britain compete and win in the global race.

Open standards for document formats

Over the past few years we’ve moved away from a small oligopoly of IT suppliers to create a more open market. And yet the software we use in government is still supplied by just a few large companies.

I want to see a greater range of software used, so people have access to the information they need and can get their work done without having to buy a particular propriety brand. In the first instance, this should help departments to do something as simple as sharing documents with each other more easily.

So we have been talking to users about the problems they face when they read or work with our documents - and we have been inviting ideas on how to solve these challenges.

Today I can announce that we’ve set out the document formats that we propose should be adopted across government - and we’re asking you to tell us what you think about them.

It’s not about banning any one product or imposing an arbitrary list of standards. Our plan, as you would expect, is about going back to the user needs, setting down our preferences and making sure we can choose the software that meets our requirements best.

Technical standards for document formats may not set the pulse racing – it may not sound like the first shot in a revolution. But be in no doubt: the adoption of open standards in government threatens the power of lock-in to propriety vendors yet it will give departments the power to choose what is right for them and the citizens who use their services.

So a combination of open standards and a fairer procurement process can be a winning combination for Britain’s small businesses.


In the last 18 months, numerous foreign delegations - from as far afield as South Korea, Kazakhstan, and the Netherlands – have visited the Government Digital Service in Holborn, keen to learn from their experience.

The New Zealand government is using our open code to build its own version of GOV.UK.

And in October, when the so-called Obamacare website ran into problems, US commentators pointed – in a way that must have been really annoying for them - to the UK’s approach as a better alternative.

Praise for government IT projects is an unfamiliar spectre.

We all live with the experience of the Lasting Power of Attorney Team who had to add a positive feedback button because of the number of comments they were getting.

But I think the closer people look at what we’re doing, the more they will see something special.

So you should feel rightly proud of what you have achieved. We’ve set the bar high - and I have every confidence that you will deliver what you have set out to over the next 200 days.

I’m proud of what all of you have done to set us on this course.

But that’s not the end of it. There are risks.

We can’t slow down. And we can’t have even a glimmer of complacency.

Lots still to do.

The work goes on. Not just to deliver digital-by-default, but more broadly, because making government more efficient and delivering simpler, clearer, faster services is a task that should never end.

Published 29 January 2014