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Report of the Digital Government Review

The alternative approach: seeing services in their social context

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By over-stating success and under-estimating how much is left to do across the public sector, Government risks derailing the progress that has been made.

Existing thinking and policy on digital services confuses central government websites with the entirety of our complex public services. They fail to understand why so many of our transactions and interactions are necessarily face-to-face and human. They fail to understand that digital can support front-line workers with those transactions and that providing better support to the frontline can also reduce costs, improve public services and provide better outcomes.

An alternative, more people-centric approach means assessing where digital government would provide the biggest benefits to people. This more nuanced view will continue to assess the cost to government (many people, after all, are taxpayers), but it will also factor in the improvement to people’s lives. It must include the wider benefit to society, not just savings in Whitehall.

Similarly, the government has failed effectively to address digital inclusion. It has failed to understand or assist the 21% without basic online access and skills. Instead, this challenge has been left to the voluntary sector, the private sector and local government [5]. And while central government belatedly launched a digital inclusion strategy in April 2014 [6], this was accompanied with minimal investment and its execution has only just started.

Central government has also announced that it intends to provide Assisted Digital services to those who will never be able to use online services independently, but it is difficult to find evidence of these services being rolled out in parallel with services for the digitally included. Instead, they are committed to follow, but on an indeterminate timescale.

In short, there is far, far more that can and must be done if digital services are to offer meaningful improvements to those in every section of society.

[5] Some local government digital inclusion work is funded by DWP via the Universal Credit LSSF (Local Support Services Framework) fund:

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