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MPs join critics of GOV.UK Verify

08/05/19

Mark Say Managing Editor

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has added to the chorus of the critics of the GOV.UK Verify service.

Verify logo on desktop screen

It has published a report on the digital identity platform, developed by the Government Digital Service (GDS), saying it has not delivered value for money and that people trying to use the system have run into a series of problems.

This follows harsh criticisms of the programme by the National Audit Office in March, which said its continuation has not been justified.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: “Three years after GOV.UK Verify was introduced, the system is failing its users and struggling to meet key targets. Key government departments do not want to use the system and members of the public are facing problems signing up.

The PAC has highlighted a series of major failings in its report, among which is that Verify has failed to meet any of its original performance targets and GDS vastly overestimated its benefits.

It forecast that 25 million people would be using the platform by 2020, but by March of this year the figure was only 3.9 million. Also, while it predicted that at least 46 government services would use Verify by March 2018, the total stood at just 19 a year later.

This has led to a sharp downward revision of the expected financial benefits over 10 years, from £2.5 billion to £366 million. The PAC says it is even sceptical about this figure being obtained.

User problems

It also points to continued problems for many potential users in trying to sign up for the service – a failing that has been particularly acute for people needing to use it to claim universal credit – and an inability to get departments to use it.

The failures are attributed largely to poor decision making by the Cabinet Office and GDS, compounded by their failure to take proper accountability. Even though there were more than 20 reviews the programme has lacked strong leadership and oversight – a situation that persists even now.

“The witnesses did not take seriously enough their responsibilities to explain and account for why the programme failed to meet its original goal of providing a single identity assurance service across government,” the PAC says in the report. “They chose instead to emphasise the work currently being done to develop a wider market for identity verification services.”

It also points to the lack of a meaningful plan for what will happen to Verify after 2020, and says there has been no clear thought on how the intellectual property will be managed.

Among its recommendations are that:

  • GDS should set out changes to Verify to better support people claiming universal credit and set specific targets for its use;

  • secure the commitment of departments to use the platform in cross-government programmes;

  • the Cabinet Office should ensure accounting officer assessments are conducted at the proper times;

  • it should set out a detailed plan by the summer for how Verify will be maintained after 2020;

  • and it should take urgent action to clarify its intellectual property.

In October of last year the Cabinet Office signalled a radical change in the future development of Verify, handing over responsibility for increasing its use to the private sector identify providers, and indicating that the Government would not provide further money for the programme after 2020.

Persistence

This was interpreted by many as a death knell for the service, but GDS has persisted with steps in its further development. These include providing more clarity around the digital identity standards, and creating two new security bodies to support its use.

This has not impressed the PAC. Hillier added: “Once again the Government now delivered a project that was over-ambitious from the start. This is a verdict the Public Accounts Committee is making all too often on large government projects.

“The Government has now decided to stop funding to Verify in 2020. Before then, it has a duty to get the programme working properly for existing users, such as people claiming universal credit, and set out a plan of action for when public funding ends.”

Jo Platt MP, Labour’s shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, waded in with further criticisms.

“It is further evidence that their approach to modernising government and public services is comprehensively failing,” she said. “Evidence suggests that Verify’s failure may only be the tip of the iceberg.

“The Government should commit to conducting a comprehensive review of its digital projects and the risks posed by their failure.”

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

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