UK government to put more services online to cut costs

The government has unveiled its Digital Strategy document, which sketches out how heavily used public services will be made 'digital by default'. The shift could eventually save £1.7bn a year, the government hopes.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The UK government has revealed its strategy for putting more public services online — a move that it says could save £1.7bn a year.

The Digital Strategy, published on Tuesday, describes how each of the seven biggest Whitehall departments will, by the end of this year, have to choose three major services for "digital transformation". It also states that all "new or redesigned transactional services" going live after April 2014 will have to meet a new 'digital by default' standard.

UK government services are to go 'digital by default', while the gov.uk website has officially launched.

According to the document, 'digital by default' means "digital services which are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use digital services will choose to do so, while those who can't are not excluded".

"Digital services are much more convenient because they can be accessed whenever you want them," Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said in a statement. "They are also much more efficient, saving taxpayers money and the user's time. Online transactions can be 20 times cheaper than by phone, 30 times cheaper than face-to-face, and up to 50 times cheaper than by post."

The strategy document borrows an example of such savings from a study of local council efficiency. The study found that a face-to-face transaction costs an average of £8.62, whereas the same transaction would cost £2.83 over the phone and just 15p online.

The government has previously said it wanted to see most applications for public services moved online by 2013.

If all transactional services offered by central government were put online, the document added, around £1.7bn-£1.8bn could be saved annually. However: "These figures do not include the potential costs of a transition to digital, but also do not include the additional savings that could be gained from fundamental service redesign or back-end technology changes."

Service 'transformations'

The seven government departments that now have to identify three "significant exemplar service transformations" are HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the Department for Transport (DfT), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Home Office.

The redesign of these services, each of which will have to involve at least 100,000 transactions a year, will have to start in April next year. The finished products will need to go live by March 2015.

The strategy's publication came a fortnight after Gov.uk, a unified portal for online government services that went into beta back in February, was officially launched.

It also came just days after the Cabinet Office revealed a push for open standards across government — a shift that should inform the nature of the newly digitised services that will be created through the digital strategy.

Also on Tuesday, the Cabinet Office gave an update on its quest to cull redundant government websites. A further 27 have been axed since June, bringing the total for the last year to 74.

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