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Spending Review 2021 – Where the digital money is going

28/10/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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Money for digital technology in healthcare has grabbed some headlines in the run-up to the Government’s Spending Review, but the documents outline commitments, and some vague indications, of funding for digital across Whitehall and into local government.

While HM Treasury’s announcement picked out £2.1 billion for digital in the NHS as one of the highlights for the next three years, the full breakdown of the Autumn Budget and Spending Review contains a wide sprinkling of plans for other areas of public service.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (pictured) made no specific mention of digital in his speech, but the plans make repeated references to digital initiatives inside government, and frequently emphasise the importance of spending on cyber security.

It conveys a further evolution rather than a new surge in the significance of digital investments in the public sector.

Healthcare

While the allocation of £2.1 billion appears under the wider provision to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), it makes no specific reference to the latter. Instead, the brief description says the money is “for innovative use of digital technology so hospitals and other care organisations are as connected and efficient as possible, freeing up valuable NHS staff time and ensuring the best care for patients wherever they are”.

It implies the availability of further resources for existing initiatives and the scope for DHSC to make money available for new projects and explore new possibilities in the use of tech.

DWP

The Department for Work and Pensions is the other recipient of large scale funds specified for digital spending, receiving £2.6 billion “to support the delivery of benefits and transform how customers interact with the welfare system”.

Again, there is no sign of the money being tied to specific projects, but it does include £310 million new resource spending and £213 million new capital investment – around 20% of the total that suggests most of it will go on existing operations.

HMRC

HM Revenue and Customs gets £277 million to transform the way it procures IT services, with a focus on opportunities for smaller businesses and more technological innovation. This comes in addition to the £135 million it received for the purpose in last year’s short term Spending Review.

There is an emphasis on security with the allocation of £468 million over three years to strengthen its cyber defences, reduce the risk of system failures and support the continued digitisation of the tax system.

Under the HMRC umbrella, the Valuation Office Agency is to receive over £500 million, with HM Treasury emphasising the need for it to upgrade its digital capabilities.

Cabinet Office

There are no specifics on digital in the department’s settlement beyond lines that it should provide funding for the Government Digital Service (GDS) to maintain and develop information services including GOV.UK, and commitment to an unspecified amount for the development of the One Login service on which GDS is working.

Local government and DLUH

With a promise of £1.3 billion a year from the Treasury, local government has £85.8 million designated for dealing with cyber security.

This is supplemented by an allocation of £65 million to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to improve the planning regime through a new digital system to ensure more certainty and better outcomes for the environment, growth and quality of design.

FCDO

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will be given £100 million to support improvements in its technology platform and cyber security infrastructure.

DIT

The Department for International Trade has been promised over £45 million over the full period for the digital transformation of its export support services, to be delivered through an expansion of its previous system for EU trade to cover all markets.

Law officers’ departments

The document says that an element of the £2.4 billion going to the law officers’ sector over the next three years is intended to cover investment by the Crown Prosecution Service in digital innovation.

National Cyber Security Programme

A total of £32.6 billion will be invested into cyber and legacy IT over the Spending Review period, with an emphasis on improving government cyber security. Further details of the strategy will soon be published.

Defence and security

Spending for this sector was effectively set in last year’s review with the provision of over £24 billion, with digital warfare and enhancing cyber capabilities among the areas identified for spending.

Office for Veterans’ Affairs

OVA, an organisation within the Cabinet Office, will get £5 million over 2022-23 for research into issues including new technology to enable wounded, injured and sick veterans to rebuild their lives; data and digital projects to explore better use of technology for heath.

NS&I

National Savings and Investments will receive an as yet unspecified amount from the allocation for small departments and independent bodies to become a self-service digital business.

Image by Chris McAndrew, CC BY 3.0

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