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People first, alwaysContents



Many of our public services are set to failure

The next government must deliver at speed for a voting public that needs and deserves real improvements. People want reliable services that work for them; reinvigorating these requires immediate practical action.

While confident Big Tech sales teams and optimistic think tanks propose that technology can save us, years of austerity have taken their toll on service delivery. As we write these recommendations, Birmingham City Council is considering the sale of twenty-five libraries and NHS building projects in Scotland have been put on hold. And while AI can deliver some efficiencies, it cannot mend broken systems or print money – and no technology can facilitate an overnight change to the machinery of government.

These recommendations are informed by a deep understanding of the real-world impacts of technologies: our expertise is gleaned from delivering complex services, working with governments and the world’s biggest companies, and delivering change for the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society. In writing this, we have consulted experts with hands-on experience of successful public-sector digital delivery. What follows reflects their concerns, frustrations and hopes for the future.

This is not a playbook for implementing dazzling high-risk technology solutions, but a realistic look at the current state of play and a set of practical recommendations for meaningful change.

Research by IPSOS shows that 8 in 10 Britons think public services are getting worse. Cash-strapped local authorities are starved of resources while central government is stifled by ever-larger contracts with private-sector agencies and technology vendors. Ideas are bought wholesale from third parties while internal digital expertise is overlooked. Procurement is working against efficient service delivery while legacy systems are holding back re-use and collaboration. Meanwhile, think pieces about the transformative impact of AI ignore the fact that basic systems are not in place.

The incoming government must be ready to deliver

We know the incoming Labour government needs to be ready to deliver, and to keep on delivering throughout its first term. To achieve this, we recommend that digital public-service renewal is united behind a mission to put people first, always.

This is a shift to continuous delivery powered by what one of our expert contributors termed “smaller systems, teams and suppliers working in concert”. This is not slow, top-down change that begins and ends in Whitehall but a shift to an ecosystem that enables reuse and collaboration between and across local and national bodies, in which policy professionals work hand-in-hand with digital experts, and “the unsexy, but highly prevalent, challenges of legacy technology in public services” are put ahead of flashy announcements.

This is the Government Digital Service 2.0

It presents an opportunity to bring together public service with the best of technology to deliver better services for everyone.

We recommend that a new government invigorate Britain’s digital public services with a clear vision that puts people first, always – united by the goal to deliver better, healthier and more equitable lives for everyone. Some of our recommendations fall into the “boring but beneficial” category, but after 14 years of austerity it is essential that the next government repairs the foundations of public-service delivery and does not get distracted by the hype and promise of unproven technologies.

To quote the National Audit Office, “Government cannot achieve real transformation without reshaping the business of government and understanding the challenges presented by legacy systems and data.” This is a complex undertaking, but it is achievable.

People in all four nations need to benefit from the best advances technology can offer

To deliver better, cheaper, more accessible public services for everyone, the priority must be to build sustainable digital government capabilities that make better use of our resources and grow our national capabilities - today, and for the future.