Eight Years On From GDS …

… and what have we accomplished?

I wrote about Martha Lane Fox’s report on the future of e-government (shortly thereafter to become digital government, though Martha referred to it all as “government online services”) in November 2010.  The recommendations were not particularly new but they were tightly focused and provided the impetus to set up GDS and give it a power that had previously not been available to either a Cabinet Office technology-led function or, I think, any other cross-government technology-led team.

Handily, the EU have published their “Digital Economy and Society Index 2019“, and there’s a specific report on the UK.  Perhaps the last one of these that we will see.  The upside of that is that we may be top of the table in the next one that we self-publish, if only because it will be a table of one.

What, then, have we accomplished?  I’m afraid it doesn’t make for good reading.

We rank 11th overall in the EU.  The authors kindly say that this is “showing a somewhat above average performance.”  I take that to mean that given there are 27 member states, we are just above the mid-point.  If you were to measure performance by GDP, or by capital invested, or by expectation of position, I’m quite sure that this is a well below average performance.

It gets worse.  We are 18th for online service completion and a woeful 27th for pre-filled forms.  Put to one side the idea that “forms” are still the vernacular more than 20 years after we started down the online path.

Our best ranking, by far, is “digital public services for businesses” – I may be biased but I would put that down to the original work by HMRC as far back as 2001 followed up by good work by Companies House (which chose to do things their own way but nevertheless did a very good job – far above average one might say).  It is perhaps interesting to note that GDS has never paid much attention to business transactions – Verify ignores businesses (in the too hard box), the work with RPA around payments to farmers was abandoned after a disastrous launch etc.  And yet there we are in 2nd place.

Who’s first?

Estonia I hear you cry.

Would be a good guess.  They’re 2nd.  Finland is first.

Estonia is let down by open data (where they are 25th); Finland is let down by digital public services for businesses (16th) and open data (19th).

There are some lessons to learn here.  Trouble is we just never seem to learn them.

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