No such review of 2016 is being tweeted at the moment by Sir Jeremy.
Perhaps nothing much has happened this year.
that Sir Jeremy has linked his fate to the fate of the Government Digital Service (GDS): "Sir Jeremy can't keep away from the importance of the digital transformation of government by GDS".
. That was 13 months ago on 27 November 2015. GDS have never explained what they're going to do with the money. In that sense perhaps nothing much has indeed happened this year.
The department that Sir Jeremy depends on to transform government digitally has operated for more than a year with no published strategy. And the published strategy before that had
GDS keep promising to publish their new £450 million strategy. As late as 14 December 2016 ex-
magazine that the strategy would be published before Christmas: "A new strategy is due out before Christmas which will set out our priorities for digital and a really ambitious transformation agenda for government".
. That's not how a smoothly-run publicity machine operates.
The director general says the document will be published before Christmas. Two days later, egg on face, he turns out to be wrong. It's unsettling to see such an about turn.
A GDS strategy document does exist. Derek du Preez, our favourite
. Why not publish it?
There has to be a good reason to endure the embarrassment of saying you're going to publish a document that's already been divulged to journalists and then not doing so. What is that good reason?
Not just one. There are several good reasons you might suggest.
Before considering those good reasons, note that the delay in publication of the GDS strategy could be a good sign. It could indicate that responsible mandarins are finally looking at GDS's
and not the supposed skills puffed in GDS's PR – reality could be getting a look-in:
There are more but that's enough good reasons to delay the publication of GDS's strategy for many a Christmas yet. It behoves us all to support Sir Jeremy and Whitehall's other mandarins if they have finally spotted that it is a delusion to suppose that GDS is the obvious centre for government transformation.
(the Government Digital Service) is "a blog about the tools and techniques used by GDS for data analysis" and back in November GDS told us about how they use artificial intelligence to automate the assessment of user feedback, please see
"This approach can also be used", GDS conclude, "to tackle a range of text analysis challenges ... such as quickly understanding policy consultation responses".
That's quite a leap. One minute GDS are telling us how hard it is to work out algorithmically what a piece of text is about. Next minute we're supposed to believe that natural language processing could assess the merits of a tax expert's response to a consultation conducted by Her Majesty's Treasury.
So, not close
. You may have been hoping for something sophisticated. Something transformative. In the event, in the name of data science, they're counting exclamation marks.Updated 7.2.17Privacy groups urge dropping entire Digital Economy Bill data clause
– thus Neil Merrett yesterday, "read him early, read him often", as we always say.
His latest article isn't just about the ghastly Digital Economy Bill. It also covers GDS's dance-of-the-seven-veils national digital transformation IT strategy:
|The Cabinet Office has said that the publication of the new GDS strategy was expected to be unveiled by Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer this week.|
All the top performers have left the GDS stage now. Ditto the senior members of the chorus.
There's almost no-one left at GDS to support Mr Gummer as he comes out from behind the curtain and, blinded by the footlights, makes his way to the front of the stage to entertain a packed house wearing nothing more than version 107f, or whatever, of the aforementioned national digital transformation IT strategy. There's ex-Goldman Sachs man Kevin Cunnington, Director General of GDS. And after that, no-one. They've all left.
Support could be provided by drafting in some of the GDS talent of yesteryear. Maybe it would help to have some razzmatazz from the US or Australia. GDS could call on the bottomless pool of talent at the Department for Culture Media and Sport , the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. John Manzoni or Sir Jeremy Heywood could assist at the unveiling of the long-awaited strategy.
It's going to be lonely. Good luck, Mr Gummer.Updated 20.2.17
Neil Merrett promised us the publication at last of the long-awaited government transformation strategy please see above and, lo, it finally came to pass a year late on 9 February 2017
Next day, Computer Weekly
magazine served up Government digital strategy ticks the boxes - but real transformation needs more radical ambition
. That cool reaction was followed on St Valentine's Day by GDS, HMRC and Verify: so much for cross-government digital collaboration
and on 15 February 2017 we got HMRC ID vs Gov.uk Verify [RIP] – what’s the difference, and why it matters
"Building on the work we have already done", GDS say on pp.11-12
, "our priorities for government up to 2020 are ... making better use of GOV.UK Verify [RIP] by working towards 25 million users by
A fortnight before the publication of GDS's strategy, HMRC had already announced that they were proposing not to use GOV.UK Verify (RIP). Both DWP and the NHS have in the past expressed reservations about using GOV.UK Verify (RIP). Scotland has its own identity assurance scheme, the private sector has several and has no need of the under-performing GOV.UK Verify (RIP) and neither does local government.
The question arises therefore how on earth GDS could possibly achieve 25 million GOV.UK Verify (RIP) users in three years time.
They can't ...
... unless they cheat ...
... in connection with which, cast your mind back all the way to 1 February 2017 and the GDS blog post Growing Verify: services that need less proof of identity
. The proposal there is to go back to "basic accounts
", GOV.UK Verify (RIP) unverified
accounts, self-certification, level of assurance 1 accounts.
Perhaps GDS could get 25 million people to self-certify. The basic accounts created would be of no use whatsoever to relying parties like DWP, the NHS, et al
. But GDS would have achieved their strategic target – 25 million sort-of-users.Updated St Patrick's Day 2017
Neither of them is employed by GDS any more but according to Tom Loosemore and Stephen Foreshew-Cain "digital means applying the culture, practices, processes and technologies of the internet era to respond to people’s raised expectations". GDS haven't advanced any other definition of the word "digital" and we may assume that they are still happy with it.
We have pointed out certain problems with that definition based on the culture of the internet era. The culture includes large dollops of pornography and fraud and it involves the mass destruction of any notion of privacy
. GDS surely don't approve of that but they haven't yet distanced themselves from those aspects of the internet era by providing a new definition of "digital".
They probably should do. Today we learn that Gov.UK pulls plug on its YouTube ads amid extremism concerns
. Inadvertently, Her Majesty's Government have been paying for advertisements to appear on extremist websites, thereby funding extremism. This discovery is all thanks to an investigation mounted by The Times
newspaper, please see for example Taxpayers are funding extremism
It's time for GDS to provide a serviceable definition of "digital".Updated 27.3.17
We noted a month ago
that the chances of the Government Digital Service (GDS) increasing the number of people registered for GOV.UK Verify (RIP) accounts to 25 million by the year 2020 are nil. If they're lucky.2074 maybe
. Or even 2425. But not 2020.
GDS could cheat. They could count unverified accounts as though they were verified. But that would be cheating. It wouldn't convince anyone. Certainly not the ladies and gentlemen of the UK financial sector
who, GDS hope, are looking for a way to use GOV.UK Verify (RIP).
That hope may be in vain but it's all GDS have left. As noted in an interview they gave to Government Computing
. Talking about the inability of GOV.UK Verify (RIP) to match the Government Gateway
, ex-Goldman Sachs man Kevin Cunnington, director general of GDS, says: "It would be nice if they become a citizen brand called Verify".
"It would be nice". Hope. Wishful thinking. Sad but that's all there is ...
... or not quite all. There's also a plan. A plan for how to achieve 25 million accountholders. What kind of a plan? A concrete one. A very
concrete one – Cunnington: “Very concrete” plans mapped for 25m user Verify expansion
. There's a "plan" and a "target" and an "ambition" and an "aim". The plan/target/ambition/aim "exists", we are told, and it's "very specific" but it's "not publicly available". So much for the GDS watchword make things open, it makes them better.
Mr Cunnington is openly planning/aiming to include basic, unverified GOV.UK Verify (RIP) accounts "because not all services require you to so formally identify yourself". The 25 million accounts will include millions of self-certifications. You don't need an identity assurance scheme to do that and you don't need to pay "identity providers" to do it for you. It's smoke and mirrors.
"The tax domain was one area Cunnington suggested where this lower level of ID assurance may be relevant to increase the number of Verify users". Really? Does Mr Cunnington really think that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs will be happy to pay tax refunds to someone whose identity hasn't been verified? We looked at this last November
. It's self-deception.
Wishful thinking. Unverified verifications. Smoke. Mirrors. Self-deception. This isn't a strategy. Goldman Sachs wouldn't put up with it. Neither should Whitehall. Nor should we.Updated 4.4.17
Last week the National Audit Office (NAO) published a new report, Digital transformation in government
. They say: "This report examines the role of Government Digital Service [GDS] in supporting transformation and the use of technology across government":
- It is not yet clear what role GDS will play in relation to the [Transformation Peer Group] ... (13)
- GDS has also struggled to demonstrate the value of its own flagship initiatives such as Verify, or to set out clear priorities between departmental and cross-government objectives (20)
- ... there continues to be a risk that GDS is trying to cover too broad a remit with unclear accountabilities (21)
- To achieve value for money and support transformation across government, GDS needs to be clear about its role (21)
- ... we recommend that ... GDS, departments and other parts of the centre of government should clarify responsibilities for transformation ... (22a)
- ... we recommend that ... Roles, responsibilities and plans for delivering the new transformation strategy are more clearly defined (22a)
- GDS should undertake a further phase of planning with clear costs, timescales and monitoring arrangements (22a)
- ... we recommend that ... GDS improves the clarity, relevance and consistency of guidance and technical standards (22c)
- It should make clear the relative status of guidance documents ... (22c)
- It should track performance against clear technical and programme measures ... (22d)
- It is not yet clear how GDS will measure the [Government Transformation Strategy]’s progress ... (1.13)
- ... we examine Government Digital Service’s (GDS’s) role in setting strategy and consider its recent experience of ... developing a clear strategy for government (2.1)
- GDS’s experience over the last five years highlights challenges relating to the clarity, completeness and interpretation of the [2012 Government Digital Strategy] (2.3)
- It is not yet clear how GDS will prioritise its activities over the next few years, or how it will develop a plan to support its new approach (2.5)
- GDS’s role in supporting transformation is not set out clearly in the new Government Transformation Strategy (2.7)
- We found that responsibilities between GDS, the [Infrastructure and Projects Authority] and departments are not clearly defined (2.7)
- It is not clear who is responsible for driving business transformation in government ... (2.7)
- It is also unclear how they will do this (2.7)
- In an internal review in 2015, GDS found that there was a lack of clarity about the purpose of the Performance Platform (2.10)
- The minutes for four months from September 2016 noted that the Digital Group (which covers Verify and other common services) had to ask [GDS's Advisory Board] to clarify current priorities ... (2.17)
- In the new Government Transformation Strategy, GDS has restated the importance of using data to support transformation in government ... It is not yet clear how GDS plans to take forward its work in this area (3.15)
- Overview of GDS’s activities to support data transformation ... No overall data strategy to provide clarity of overall purpose (Figure 9)
- Lack of clear framework for [Technology Code of Practice] (4.9)
- GDS has had to clarify its guidance in response to confusion about requirements for adopting different contracting models (4.12)
- It is not clear how new platforms are meeting the greatest need ... (4.16)
- Lack of clarity of purpose and a poor understanding of wider government requirements can lead to unanticipated problems ... (4.18)
- It is not clear how or when GDS will determine whether continuing with Verify will achieve projected benefits (4.26)
- ... the business case is highly reliant on assumptions about savings in departments, and it is not clear whether these are reasonable (4.27)
- GDS’s estimate of savings is heavily dependent on avoided costs in departments ... it is not clear that these are good benchmarks (4.31)
- It is not yet clear whether Verify will be able to overcome the limitations that have prevented its widespread adoption across government ... (4.33)
- GDS has also struggled to demonstrate the value of its own flagship initiatives such as Verify, or to set out clear priorities between departmental and cross-government objectives (Figure 15)
- ... there continues to be a risk that GDS is trying to cover too broad a remit with unclear accountabilities (Figure 15)
- ... GDS needs to be clear about its role ... (Figure 15)
After a while, you get the point. The NAO were looking for clarity. And didn't find it.
Hardly surprising. GDS have little or no experience of public administration.
If the NAO wanted to learn about digital transformation in government, they'd do better to study HMRC
, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.
The NAO report will give both local government and the private sector occasion to re-consider the prudence of their involvement, if any, with GDS's identity assurance platform, GOV.UK Verify (RIP)
. And central government, too: "... this means that departments face weak incentives to adopt Verify" (4.30).
The NAO add nothing to anyone's confidence in GDS's payments and notifications platforms, GOV.UK Pay and GOV.UK Notify. Confidence in GDS's performance platform is further undermined.
Relations between the data.gov.uk
team, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and GDS will be strained by the NAO report. What do GDS have to teach data.gov.uk and the ONS about data analysis (3.13-15)?
The NAO are silent on GDS's contributions to the discipline of machine learning
... but voluble on the failures of GDS's exemplars programme
Sir Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service, has previously reposed his trust in GDS to improve the public's trust in Whitehall
. The NAO report suggests that he may be disappointed.Updated 14.2.18
Take a look:
|From: Data.gov.uk Team [mailto:email@example.com]|
Sent: 11 April 2011 12:32
Subject: Re: [Questions] Home Office spend over £25,000
Thanks for getting in touch with data.gov.uk and for flagging up that these links are incorrect. It appears that the incorrect URL for the file has been added to the data.gov.uk registry, hence the link does not work. I have asked the department to resubmit the correct links. In the interim, you can view the expenditure data on the following page of the Home Office web site:
I hope that this is helpful.
The data.gov.uk team
On Thu, Apr 7, 2011 at 5:05 PM, <DMossEsq> wrote:
David Moss sent a message using the contact form at http://data.gov.uk/contact.
The returns for November and December 2010 are missing.
Can we the public please see the figures.
Worthy? Yes. Dull? Yes. But look at the date. April 2011. Getting on for seven years ago. And when did data.gov.uk get started? Answer
, "Data.gov.uk launched publicly with a beta version in January 2010", eight years ago.
Now roll forward eight years to last Thursday, 8 February 2018, and Kevin Cunnington's blog post, The Government Transformation Strategy - one year on
: "We’re helping government make better use of data - to use data as an enabler of public services. We’re also helping government publish data through data.gov.uk
Mr Cunnington is the director general of the Government Digital Service (GDS), his blog post is all about the tremendous achievements of GDS during the year since he finally published his strategy and here he is trying to take the credit for data.gov.uk doing the job it's been doing very well since before GDS existed.
GDS try to provide the components for government departments to assemble into systems and Mr Cunnington tells us that: "There are now more than 175 services across government that use one of the common components we operate. For example the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency [DVSA] uses GOV.UK Notify to remind people when they need to have an MOT test for their vehicle
. This service now has more than 500,000 users" and "Bath and North East Somerset Council uses Notify to let residents know about bin collection days".
DVSA send DMossEsq emails to remind him to get MOTs for his two cars. (Is DMossEsq one user in Mr Cunnington's calculus, or two?) Is GDS trying to take the credit for inventing email? Lotus Notes has been providing workflow management since 1989
. Should IBM, who now own Lotus Notes, thank GDS?153
services use GOV.UK Notify out of Mr Cunnington's impressive-sounding 175. So the other components GDS provide rack up just 22 services between them.
"Public sector current receipts are expected to be about £769 billion in 2018-2019". That's what it says in HM Treasury's Red Book
(p.5) while Mr Cunnington tells us that "more than £39.3 million in payments has passed through GOV.UK Pay". That's 0.0051105332% of expected receipts. Mr Cunnington doesn't tell us who we should thank for the other 99.9948894668%.
"And we’re tackling the challenge of identity assurance through GOV.UK Verify
[RIP]. GOV.UK Verify [RIP] is being used in a range of services [16 of them
] across government. For example, HMRC is using it to help people check their income tax online and HM Land Registry will use it to support the launch of a new digital mortgages service". That's Mr Cunnington again.
The story of GOV.UK Verify (RIP) is the story of failure, there is no need to go over it again here, please see DMossEsq passim
Except for that last bit, "HM Land Registry will use [GOV.UK Verify (RIP)] to support the launch of a new digital mortgages service".
HM Land Registry have created their own electronic signature system. That's what might support their digital mortgage service, not GOV.UK Verify (RIP). GDS and their "identity providers" refuse to accept any liability for their identity assurance failures and, as a result, Parliament is being warned that the taxpayer will have to pick up the cost of any contingent liabilities
One last example of GDS's success in the first busy year of its strategy: "... we’re building service journeys into GOV.UK
– piloting this approach with the ‘Learn to drive a car: step by step
’ page. These service journeys take all the content and transactions on GOV.UK and put them into a coherent service journey that users and government understand":
GDS were given four years to 31 March 2020 to spend £450 million
Let's hope it's a bit more than they know about data modelling
. And data ethics
. And artificial intelligence. And machine learning. And the internet of things. And distributed ledgers/blockchain. And biometrics
. And public administration. And ...Updated 3.12.18
In the UK welfare system we have a benefit called "carer's allowance
Carer's allowance is administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Four-and-a-bit years ago back in July 2014 Mike Bracken, the first executive director of the UK's Government Digital Service (GDS), published a blog post – What we mean when we say "service transformation"
. Under the tutelage of GDS, DWP Digital had introduced an on-line claim form to supplement the existing paper one:
|It’s dramatically faster to use and works beautifully on phones and tablets as well as standard computers.|
The paper form issues from "an outdated mainframe computer that churns these things out the same way it was designed to churn them out years ago". Not so with the on-line service:
|... when we talk about "transformation", we don't just mean messing about with the hardware and software that makes things happen. We mean thinking about the whole service, getting a multidisciplinary team together, and transforming the experience for users, for the people who are seeking help when they put in a claim. We mean delivering a better experience for them, doing something that makes a genuine difference to their lives.|
Thanks to GDS, DWP now has "new ways of working" using "agile techniques
". DWP are "making decisions with data
", they "release code on a two-week cycle
, rapidly iterating on what came before
" and "the team is now making use of cloud-based infrastructure and services
This is "delivery in action
, ... The DWP’s Digital Leader Kevin Cunnington
[now director general of GDS] has some great people working on this and other projects (and has been busy recruiting more)". DWP will "end up with a truly transformed service, something designed to meet the needs of the people who use it. Something that delivers".
Carer's allowance was exemplar #12
in GDS's failed 25-service transformation plan
That was July 2014.
Now roll forward to 1 December 2018.
Nothing in the encomium above could prepare you for that day's edition of BBC Radio 4's Money Box
which reports that the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee has accused DWP of "shocking ineptitude" and "gross incompetence".
DWP have been over-paying carer's allowance. They are dealing with about 70,000 cases at the moment, out of 850,000 claimants. There has always been some over-payment but never so many cases at once. And DWP are taking so long to identify cases of over-payment that the claimants don't owe just a few weeks-worth of £64.60 but several years-worth. These carers are now being sued by DWP, some of them, for tens of thousands of pounds.
That shouldn't happen. It's inept of DWP and incompetent.
So much for transforming the experience for users
, making decisions with data
and delivery in action
. Releasing code on a two-week cycle
doesn't seem to have helped and neither do agile techniques
, rapidly iterating
and making use of cloud-based infrastructure and services.
So much for when we talk about transformation, we don't just mean messing about with the hardware and software that makes things happen. We mean thinking about the whole service
With GDS, it's just talk. They say they've transformed the whole system, end to end. In fact, it's just the front end. It's putting lipstick on pigs, please see above
They say they're making decisions with data but an all-time high of 70,000 investigations into over-payment says they're not.
They say they know how to move government into the internet era
and the select committee say they're inept and incompetent.Money Box
reveals that DWP are sent up to date information about the carers' income and about the PAYE/NI that they're paying. That's Pay As You Earn (i.e. income tax) and National Insurance. That is presumably a reference to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs's RTI system (Real Time Information).
RTI is designed to collect this information every time someone is paid instead of just once a year. The idea is precisely to make the appropriate changes to welfare payments quickly. That clearly isn't happening.
GDS's repeated assertion that data-sharing would ensure better public services
is not the simple tautology they claim. It is a dubious hypothesis. Certainly in the case of DWP/HMRC data-sharing it is. 70.000 times over.