Monday 25 March 2013

GDS and the doom-by-default Wednesday summit

As usual, it's interesting what ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken doesn't talk about in his weekly diary:
  • 48 members of parliament have now signed an early day motion to debate the Government Digital Service's plans for digital-by-default. Or rather, the lack of plans for how to cope with the millions of people in the UK who have never used the web and will be excluded by default.
  • The repeated promise was that GDS would have an identity assurance service "fully operational" for 21 million DWP claimants "by March 2013". Today is Monday 25 March 2013 and there's no sign of it.
There is no reference in the 22 March 2013 issue of the diary to either of these matters but we do learn that this week's meeting of Whitehall's permanent secretaries will take place at GDS Towers and will be concerned with the state of digital-by-default.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall there.

Will the permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions sit quietly as first Sir Jeremy Heywood and then Sir Bob Kerslake extol the theoretical virtues of digital-by-default?


But that won't alter the fact that, as far as Universal Credit is concerned, in practice, digital-by-default is dead.

We knew that some time back when it was revealed that DWP's Local Support Services Framework makes no reference to GDS's Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP). In case anyone missed the point, it is emphasised again in last week's Universal Credit – Your claim journey, where DWP say that:
  • After you make your Universal Credit claim, most interactions will be face to face, by telephone or by post.
  • A telephone helpline will be available, Mon – Fri, 8.00am – 6.00pm.
  • DWP will contact you by telephone to tell you the date of your personalised work search interview and what evidence you need to bring to it.
  • ... your decision letter can be used as proof of your claim when applying for other benefits ... This letter will be posted to you.
  • You are responsible for notifying DWP of all changes to your circumstances ... you will be sent confirmation of this change by post.
  • You should report the end of any employment by telephone.
  • If you become part of a couple, both you and your partner will be required to attend an adviser interview.
Digital-by-default is meant to cut out face-to-face meetings, telephone communications and the post.

DWP acknowledge that the initial claim for Universal Credit will be made on GOV.UK, GDS's single government domain website. But even there they can't help adding:
  • If there are technical problems with the GOV.UK site a webpage will be displayed that gives alternative contact arrangements. This will also be the case if you are using an internet browser that cannot properly access the site.
DWP have gone out of their way in this document to make it clear that GDS have not delivered on their IDAP promise.

If GDS can't get DWP on the hook, how about HMRC?

What will the permanent secretary at HMRC make of the trip to GDS Towers? Judging by DWP's experience, she's unlikely to conclude that HMRC can rely on GDS's promises.

Is the Government Gateway going to be replaced by IDAP? How? When? Who by?

What hope is there for Francis Maude's mission to change the way the UK census is compiled?

The Department for Education will be feeling embarrassed, having promised to help GDS with Individual Electoral Registration. The Department for Transport and the Department of Health by contrast will be feeling relieved to have kept themselves out of that illegal data-sharing project.

The permanent secretary at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills has been left holding GDS's midata baby/initiative. midata can't work without IDAP. BIS, like DWP, stand jilted at the altar.

The dynamics of Wednesday's meeting promise to be fascinating. It's a shame we can't be there, we the public. And we can't be the only ones to regret it. What about the UK's eight Identity Providers?

It's all very well for DWP to claim, as they have, that no Universal Credit contractors have been laid off but that's precisely what's happened to the IDPs, isn't it. Some of them have spent years being nice to officials – DWP prepares alternative to identity cards for Universal Credit – and now they're being cold-shouldered.

The IDPs would no doubt like to know, just like the public, whether the permanent secretaries are minded to be realistic and pull the plug now on digital-by-default or whether wishful thinking will prevail and GDS is to be given another chance – see this coming Friday's weekly cliffhanger GDS diary.

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