Not bad for week one

Yesterday, the new UK government announced plans to bring together the digital transformation of government under a new team in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT). 

Digital government in the UK means a lot to Public Digital. Setting up the Government Digital Service is a big part of our company’s history. For many of us, it was a professionally life-changing moment. We cared then, and we care now.

New governments have a multitude of things to be getting on with, this one arguably even more than most. So we are delighted that this administration decided - on its very first Monday - to make a clear, bold move to make digital government a priority, not an afterthought.

This is clearly not about just going back to 2011, and reprising GDS. Hundreds of brilliant officials have worked very hard to move long past that. We think this is a bigger, and perhaps more important step.

First, in Peter Kyle the digital centre has a Secretary of State who has made a commitment to ‘overhaul the British public’s experience on interacting with government,’ in his first public statement. Digital government has lacked a political champion since Francis Maude. Since then there have been 11 digital ministers in 9 years. It’s hard to make progress when you’re constantly briefing a new minister. The signs are positive that the UK has finally found one motivated to stay the course.

Second, the government has made clear that this is not just a job for DSIT. Delivering on the digital agenda is to be a joint endeavour between DSIT, Cabinet Office, and crucially, HM Treasury too. Digital government in the UK has never had the powerful central departments fully united behind it before. Very few countries have. If that centre holds, it means everyone can go faster and further.

And third, the world is a different place from 2011. You can’t talk about digital government in 2024 without AI in the conversation. But that conversation must be grounded in pragmatic, socially responsible reality, rather than untethered techno-optimism or doomsterism. Bringing the threads together in one place should bring focus to where there has been drift.

This government has pledged to be a mission-driven one; to achieve that, it has to adopt a radically different way of working to change the civil service’s ways of working as much as sticking to its 5 priority outcomes. The new Prime Minister nodded to that in his first message to officials.

There are many things we’d like to see any new administration, in any part of the world, do but today is not the time for that. This is a promising start four days into a new government.

Change is never easy; we learned that before. But we also know that effective delivery - and the million silent nods of approval that decent public services can earn - doesn’t happen without the right organisation and the right leadership. Political leadership is an essential part of that.

Ministers decide. The best can unblock delivery too. We hope these ministers will.