Thursday 13 March 2014

EXCLUSIVE: GDS and the 2015 general election – SCOOP

"Central plank of the 2015 UK election campaign temporarily unavailable", we said, back in November 2013.

That was when CloudStore went down for a week. Twice. Just after Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE had been allowed to make a presentation to the full Cabinet of the UK government.

Clearly GDS – the Government Digital Service – was going to form part of the Conservative Party May 2015 general election campaign and manifesto, and maybe the Liberal Democrats', too.

But what of UKIP?

Don't know.

And what of Labour?

There's been a bit of activity on Twitter over the past few weeks involving Matthew Taylor and, indirectly, Jon Cruddas MP, Labour's policy architect. It looked as though Labour are trying to make their mind up about digital-by-default and that is confirmed in a blog post by Bryan Glick, the editor of Computer Weekly, following an interview with Chi Onwurah, one of the few Labour (or Conservative or Liberal Democrat or UKIP) MPs who might actually understand the technology.

Only four months after DMossEsq, Mr Glick says "GDS becomes political as Labour launches digital government review" and now GDS have noticed, too, and have started to set out their stall in a blog post today, Mapping the GDS journey.

We've got 14 months of this to look forward to. And we're off to a good start. With a scoop, which Mr Glick has not yet found room to publish in the comments on his blog post. [Mr Glick has now kindly published the comment, which had been trapped by a Computer Weekly spam filter.] So here it is. An exclusive:

By some mystery of modern telecommunications, the following email arrived in my inbox three months before it was sent.
From: SpAd
Sent: 12 June 2014 20:15
To: ShadCabOffMin
Subject: Government Digital Service (GDS)
Dear Chi
As requested, I have taken a look at this GDS business. I understand that the issue is what to put in the manifesto that will make us look modern, alert to the possibilities of technology, caring and prudent moneywise.
There’s an obvious political problem. If we support GDS, we look as though we support the Conservatives/Lib Dems. I strongly recommend, therefore, that we criticise them.
There is ample reason to do so.
They’re promising savings. GDS reckon it would take 11 years [1] from the time digital-by-default starts – which it still hasn’t – to the point at which the country could enjoy savings by making a minimum of 40,000 [2] public servants redundant.
The public has had it up to here with promises of savings that are never delivered. They’ll take one look at that 11 years and decide that (a) it’s so far in the future no-one could possibly make an accurate prediction, (b) that’s 11 years during which no politician or official can be accused of failure, they can just do what they like in the interim, and (c) they’ll all have moved on to retirement/better jobs in the private sector by the time the mission is aborted at a cost estimated by the NAO to be £1 billion.
I may have got this wrong but 40,000 public sector redundancies doesn’t look to me like a Labour policy objective. It would probably knock another million off union subs to the Party. Not helpful with our overdraft at the Co-op.
We’d do best to point out that digital-by-default is just the Blair policy of transformational government [3] under a different name. Criticising it gives us a double whammy. Not only can we say that the coalition have got it wrong, they’ve been hoodwinked by silver-tongued IT salesmen, it also helps to keep a distance between us and TB.
Digital-by-default only works if there’s a reliable national identity management system. We really don’t want to go through all the aggro we had with ID cards again. Do we? Better to cast the coalition mob as Blairite ID card supporters and let Labour take a stand on civil liberties (if any of your colleagues can remember what they are) and the human right to privacy.
There’s a lot more but perhaps that’s enough. Will write up the rest if you insist. As a parting shot, do you realise that GDS’s model for digital by default is Estonia [4]? I wouldn’t fancy your chances of re-election if you try to convince the good people of Newcastle that they should be more Estonian.


Anonymous said...

Here is what may or may not be posted on CW Bryan Glick's commentary

Yes just as current Government had great ideas and ambition in last election so here we go again! Yes no doubt progress to sort out the self inflicted cost of allowing big SITS to dominate - yes blame lies at Government door suppliers only do what customers want and "dumb" customers relying on suppliers to do best for tax payer (the official policy) well you get what you deserve.
So what happened to other initiatives where easy talk on innovation was being “promoted”? We like many innovators saw a glimmer of light but sadly the systemic silos of knowledge and the inevitable scatter of self interest saw these initiatives all fail “The Skunk Works, The Innovation Launch Pad and ICT Futures. Then there was the PASC review with a damming report on procurement and with the strong recommendation of the need for Government to become “the intelligent customer”. So again a spurt of action as GDS take up that mantle but oh dear they just did not understand what it actually meant. The absolute requirement some might say common sense is to understand what capabilities exist which then allows good articulation of requirements.
The GDS boss Mike Bracken confidently says "Technology is a fourth-order question in government…..Only after the user needs and the policy needs and the operational needs have been determined should attention be paid to the technology needs, if any ... If we let technology determine public services, then we are literally starting in the wrong place and guaranteeing failure. So under a FOI I enquired what knowledge supports such a statement. The response was simple it lies with individual departments via the Technology Leaders Network. It is clear the knowledge does not exist in GDS yet its boss makes such statements and of greater concern GDS are advising departments on their Digital frameworks without such knowledge and do not reflect current capabilities. So the old ways continue with every department expected to do their own research, as if, and if so what a shockingly inefficient way for a Government to work?
I am now formulating clarification on a response to a FOI to seeking information from the CTO on research undertaken in order to become the intelligent customer and why relevant technology innovation is being ignored. Yes next 14 months will see handbags at dawn but will any Politician really take in “IT” in a meaningful way? Well I am asking some awkward and relevant question…..we shall see.

Anonymous said...

It appears the 'Mapping the GDS Journey' blogpost has been pulled from

It may be coming back though, maybe, one day -

Perhaps google has a cache of it, was it interesting enough for me to bother looking for it?

David Moss said...

Thank you for your comment Anonymous @ 18 March 2014 21:16.

The GDS journey has disappeared from the map several times in the past week and may yet reappear.

Who knows.

In the meantime, while we're waiting, as luck would have it, with an eye to posterity, there is a copy available here which may be studied by some latter-day Gibbon, chronicling the decline and fall of the Estonian empire (Britannic prefecture).

Playing back the lost post reminds us of some of GDS's weaker suits. Identity assurance, for example, where they hold a void. And of their weakest suit, international relations.

It may be that the future Gibbon fingers that as the main cause of decline, GDS's belief that everyone else is no good at their job, barring none – UK central government departments and agencies, UK local government, big IT suppliers, the US, ... – leaving absolutely no-one with whom they could co-operate, including the famous users who understood their needs so poorly that a wise GDS had to tell them what their needs were.

On a lighter note, Anonymous, you may enjoy the "nifty graphic" referred to by GDS. No fuddy-duddy a-picture-tells-a-thousand-words for GDS, here a thousand pictures are needed to convey a single word.

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