This article is from the February issue of Total Politics
The other week the government formally opened its new Government Digital Service (GDS, digital.cabinetoffice.gov.uk), a unit with the aim of digitising public services. Digital guru (and a personal heroine) Martha Lane Fox and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude contributed to the proceedings.
Prior to this, the GDS had already run some key projects, such as the popular government e-petitions site, and the DirectGov service. Furthermore, it seemed keen to push on towards a single government domain, to create a one-stop-shop for the British government online.
It might all sound rather geeky and distant, but digital services can bring real benefits. For example, they can, when done properly, be very cost-effective. Apparently, the GDS had saved 80 per cent of its budget by switching to using Apple hardware and Google Docs. Projects run by the GDS also promise to open up the public services we pay for, and hopefully make government, in the widest sense, more transparent by publishing the data it possesses. Digitisation gives people easier access to information, and the ability to feedback to service providers.
For all these reasons, the GDS is a great idea. In the 21st century we need to modernise and digitise our public services fully to make them more effective and responsive to public need. However, government must also take care to ensure that public services are accessible to the right people – many of those most in need of them may not have ready access to the internet.
Those launching the GDS boasted about the high calibre of people they were attracting from huge, private tech firms like Google. It will be interesting to see if the GDS can then be utilised to its full potential, or if it becomes another government technological white elephant. For the moment, I remain optimistic.
Charlotte Henry blogs at digitalpolitico.net