Francis Maude: better service is also saving taxpayers’ cash

Horsham MP Francis Maude

Horsham MP Francis Maude

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As many of you will have filed your tax returns online last week I thought I would write about digital government services today.

Much of the work I do in government is not glamorous, but increasingly our digital agenda is bringing the ‘wow’ factor to how the UK government is viewed at home and abroad. We’re showing that it’s possible to make public services better while saving taxpayers’ money – perhaps the holy grail of efficiency.

Gov.uk is our flagship project. It’s clear, uniform and uncluttered.

Gov.uk even beat the Shard and the Olympic cauldron to win the coveted Design Museum Award last year, but design is about so much more than appearance. It’s about how things work, and for government that means putting users at the heart of public services. Understanding what people need, how they want it delivered and how they’ll use it. It’s obvious really - but too easily forgotten when bureaucracies become too large, too powerful or too remote.

We can change the whole way we design and deliver services. Government transactions need not be unduly complex, and we can create digital services that are so clear, simple and good that people need no persuading to use them.

We’ve closed loads of websites to create gov.uk, but there are still 455 government websites - and we keep finding more! We’re saving 70 per cent of the previous cost - and making it much better.

And the cost of digital transactions is not just a little bit lower – it’s much lower:

20 times lower than over the phone.

30 times lower than by post

And 50 times lower than face-to-face.

We’ve changed our whole approach to procuring and running IT. Previously, the UK government spent more on IT than any other country in Europe except Switzerland (although that included the cost of CERN where they looking for the God Particle). Big IT failures stalked government, not fit for purpose and obsolete before they were delivered.

We now make it easier for start-ups and SMEs to compete for government contracts. When we retendered a hosting contract recently the incumbent big supplier bid £4 million: a UK-based small business offered to do it for £60,000. We saved taxpayers a staggering 98.5 per cent.

In the last 18 months, numerous foreign delegations - from as far afield as South Korea, Kazakhstan, and the Netherlands – have visited the Government Digital Service in Holborn, keen to learn from our experience.

The New Zealand government is using our code to build its own version of gov.uk.

Praise for government IT projects is an unfamiliar spectre, but it’s building on this success which gets me to my office each morning with a spring in my step.