Anyone looking for a splashing of cash on digital in yesterday’s Government Spending Round will be disappointed.
There are few specific mentions of support for digital projects in the plans announced yesterday by Chancellor Sajid Javid – and they were already in the public realm.
Only one is focused entirely on digital: the £250 million to the Department of Health and Social Care for investment in AI for healthcare that the Government had announced early last month.
The other references were all within broader packages: money for more airport-style security scanners, mobile phone detection and prevention technology as part of the £100 million to the Ministry of Justice; continued support for HM Revenue and Customs’ Making Tax Digital programme; funding for tech as part of £30 million to the Home Office to combat child abuse; and the continuation of the National Cyber Security Programme under the £1.9 billion investment agreed in 2015.
No doubt significant proportions of the money in the headline grabbing £13.8 billion for public services – including £1.5 billion for social care – will go to digital projects. This could be a positive feature in allowing organisations scope to spend the money how they think best; and most now have a decent grasp of digital’s central role in future services.
But the absence of specific commitments leaves open questions such as the level of support for the Government Digital Service, or for the future digitisation of tax services, or the longer term investment in cyber defences.
It also suggests that digital is nowhere near the front of the Government’s thinking at the moment.
The lack of detail reflects the short term emphasis of the announcements, and the fact the Government has described it as a Spending Round for 2020-21 rather than Spending Review. Understandably, the prevailing political uncertainties work against planning a long way ahead, and a more detailed review is expected next year – whoever may be in power.
Hopefully they will have time for clear thinking and to identify the digital priorities before that comes around.