Cabinet Office minister says technology already being explored for managing distribution of grants
Blockchain - the encryption system behind the digital currency bitcoin - is already being explored as a way of securely managing the distribution of government grants, the Cabinet Office minister revealed today.
In a speech in London, Matt Hancock said that the government cannot bury its head in the sand and ignore new technologies as they emerge. “That’s partly what happened with the web,” he said, adding that problem has now been solved.
Calling for a brainstorming of ideas for the future, Hancock implied that distributed ledgers enabled by blockchain could play a key role in the Government as a Platform programme to create what he described as "an ecosystem of interconnected components that departmental teams can use to assemble their services”. He stressed the potential of blockchain technology to "foster a new culture of trust”.
This will work only if departments trust those components in the first place, he said. “So delivering transformation is just as much about fostering a new culture of trust across government.” Hence the role of shared ledgers.
“They bring with them built-in integrity and immutability. You can only write new data, nothing is ever removed or deleted.”
Hancock was speaking three months after the government’s chief scientist, Sir Mark Walport, reported that distributed ledgers could transform the delivery of public services.
He conceded that blockchain technology is not going work in every context. With a nod to the controversy over plans for the future of Land Registry and other government data businesses he said: “When a trusted body already exists, for example, that can hold canonical data, that’s often the best solution.”
But the fact that data held in the blockchain comes with its own history, and that history is a fundamental part of is “enormously powerful”.
Hancock revealed that, as part of a plan to explore any and all possible use cases for blockchains in the public sector, the Government is exploring its use to manage the distribution of grants. The technology might also find applications in student loans or in overseas development - ideas also floated in the Walport report.
Picture from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0