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Government places Verify at centre of transformation plan

09/02/17

Minister sets target of 25 million users of verification service by 2020 as part of new digital strategy – along with plans for chief data officer and advisory board, GDS Digital Academy and fully digital real time tax

The Government is aiming to get 25 million people using the GOV.UK Verify service by 2020 as a central part of its digital transformation strategy.

Cabinet Office Minister Ben Gummer (pictured) highlighted the ambition in launching the Government Transformation Strategy at the annual conference of the Reform think tank this morning.

Ben GummerOther key elements of the strategy – much of which reiterates the significance of existing initiatives – include the appointment of a chief data officer and creation of a Data Advisory Board, the transfer of the Digital Academy to the Government Digital Service (GDS), and a fully digital tax system.

The document relates the target for the use of Verify – the verification process for online services launched in May of last year – to the importance of identity assurance in the transformation efforts. It points to plans for a series of pilots with local authorities and private sector services to understand user needs and the commercial and legal basis for using Verify accounts, and says the team in the GDS will continue to work with the certified companies to expand the range of ways people can provide their identities online.

It will also continue its work with the Open Identity Exchange to explore the potential in trustworthy digital identities, and with government departments to make sure their transactions can be completed electronically.

The extent of the ambition of the 25 million user target can be seen in the relatively low take-up of Verify so far, with only 12 central government services making use of it since its launch.

Other possibilities

The document also acknowledges that there could be a place for other forms of verification, notably for intermediaries and businesses, although it is yet to be determined which part of government is best placed to lead this. The statement is a nod to the fact that HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has been working on its own authentication mechanism for businesses and agents.

The plan for the appointment of a chief data officer harks back to a title held briefly by Mike Bracken before his departure as head of GDS in summer 2015. It reflects the document’s observation that there are still serious problems with government data being held in silos on legacy systems and not shared effectively.

The new chief data officer will be responsible for leading on the issue, working with a Data Advisory Board to align the efforts across government and attempt to build momentum by overseeing examples of good practice.

Other plans in the area include continuing work on the national data infrastructure of registers, improving data discovery tools and building government’s data science capability.

Academy transfer

Transferring the Digital Academy from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), where it was set up in 2014, to GDS reflects the position of the latter in leading the transformation plans in government; although it could also be a consequence of Kevin Cunnington’s move last year from the DWP to head up GDS.

The document says the transfer will create a nationwide capability for digital training in the Civil Service, and that GDS will look at the possibility of extending it to other parts of the public sector. Its programme will be framed by the Technology Code of Practice, Commercial Operating Standards, Digital Service Standard and Supplier Standard.

Other priorities for the next few years include building a cross-government mechanism for supporting transformations across government, involving a common language, tools and sharing knowledge. This will be accompanied by a framework for delivering transformation.

In addition, GDS will update the guidance supporting the Technology Code of Practice and other applicable standards to support organisations in replacing their old technology.

Plans for the tax system reflect HMRC’s Making Tax Digital programme which, despite recent criticisms from Parliament, is still claimed to be on target for digitising the processes for business by 2020.

The document points to the release of a number of tax related APIs for external software developers, and says it is a priority to increase the number for use inside and outside government. This should contribute to the efforts to develop a fully digital, real time tax system.

Another ambition within the strategy is for 90% of passport applications to be made online by the end of 2020, reflecting the move by HM Passport Office to digitise its processes. 31% of its customers are already using either the online channel or the new online renewal service, amounting to 2.2 million customers per year.

Similarly, there is a target for 75% of people responding to the 2021 National Census to do so online, up from the most recent level of 16.7%. The Office of National Statistics, which runs the census, will be using behavioural insights and a multi-channel approach to drive up the self-completion rates.

Change components

On a broader front, the strategy document points to three components in the change: transforming whole citizen facing services to provide a better user experience; full transformation across each department; and internal change to ensure government collaborates more effectively. It adds that departments will need to work together more.

It also restates a number of familiar objectives, including building better workplace tools and processes, making better use of data, and embedding the good use of shared platforms and reusable business capabilities. This includes shared patterns, components and the establishment of open standards.

Gummer said: “I want to see a revolution in the way we deliver public services – so that people up and down our country feel that government is at their service at every single stage in the journey.

“That is why we are today publishing our Government Transformation Strategy, outlining our commitment to reshape government by ensuring millions of people are able to access online the services they need, whenever they need. We will deliver these changes while driving efficiencies wherever possible, making considerable savings for the taxpayer.

“Only by transforming the relationship between the citizen and the state – so that the latter serves the former – will we deliver the prime minister’s commitment to build a country that works for everyone.”

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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