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Data and IT problems ‘hinder cross-government working’

Whitehall street sign
Image source: Steward

A lack of good quality data and IT systems that do not talk to each other are undermining efforts to strengthen cross-government working, according to a new parliamentary report.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has raised the issue as one of the barriers towards departments and agencies working together more effectively.

Its critical report on the issue has come months after the National Audit Office raised similar concerns in its own report.

The PAC report says that issues with data was identified as the main issue in a survey of 229 department practitioners in 2022, with 63% saying that technical issues made it difficult to share data effectively, and 62% saw departmental unwillingness to share as a barrier.

“We have reported time and time again on the impact of poor IT and are aware of the extreme complexity and inconsistency of data systems across government, for example within the criminal justice system,” the report says.

It adds that the Cabinet Office told the committee that one of the bigger challenges is using the data to drive insights and decisions in a timely way, and that there is insufficient capacity and capability across government.

Bureaucracy, priorities and inconsistencies

Other problems identified in the report include: structures and bureaucracy getting in the way of planning and delivery; poorly understood ministerial priorities; inconsistent join-up in spending decisions and allocations; a lack of routine data sharing between departments; and poor arrangements for sharing best practice and learning.

Its recommendations include that: HM Treasury should analyse how different models of cross-government working are being used; it should work with the Cabinet Office on identifying the key data needed for cross-government projects; and it should only approve business cases that clearly demonstrate a link to the cross-cutting aim they support.

Chair of the PAC Dame Meg Hillier said: “So many important Government projects are dependent on Whitehall working in harmony with itself. Yet so often difficulties with cross-government working are precisely what is hindering these projects and the benefits for citizens. While departments are rightly focused on their own policy areas, complex societal issues cannot be solved in departmental silos.

“Both the Treasury and Cabinet Office have made good progress in naming the problem by identifying the barriers preventing good working across government. The Government must now continue the process of toppling these barriers. We hope the recommendations in our report help it to do so.”

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