Digital Government

Countdown to GE2015

The UK public will go to the polls on Thursday, May 7. Opinion polls show that the likelihood of a ‘hung parliament’ is high – with no one political party having an overall majority.

The outgoing government required the Conservative Party (led by David Cameron) and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats to put together a coalition. It proved to be remarkably stable over the last five years. However, the likelihood – this time round – is of a more fragmented coalition.

In terms of digital engagement the coalition government made some modest progress. The Government Digital Service, which came into being under the previous administration and appeared to thrive under this one, has continued to good progress. Among its accolades include .GOV.UK – a kind of Google for government. Although GDS has been criticized for focusing on websites and not enough on tricky transactional services.

One of the big transactional service challenges was universal credit – a concept championed by Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions. He argued the case for a tidying and simplifying of welfare. However, the roll-out of universal credit has been plagued by problems – not least the computer systems. Only 50,000 people in selected areas have claimed the benefit since it was introduced in 2013. This is far short of the government’s targets.

Part of the problem associated with big headline projects such as universal credit is confusion. If systems designed to deliver services fail the likelihood is that staff assigned to deal with citizen queries will have inadequate information and resources. Meanwhile legacy solutions and engagement processes have to be maintained.

Whatever the flavor of incoming government there are still many issues to be resolved as far as digital service provision is concerned. The pity is that digital issues don’t get much of a showing on the hustings. But the real business of government is about trying to get these things better – without making things (that already work) much worse.

By Jeffrey Peel

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