Smarter Working probably means avoiding the need to watch a video to use the loo, says GDS

Government is the ‘largest and oldest service provider in the UK’, delegates told at last week’s Think Smarter Working For Public Sector 2018. But changing it into something that makes more sense to citizens is a job that we’ve just begun, warns GDS’s Lou Downe

Posted 12 June 2018 at 8:02am by

Here’s an interesting perspective on what government looks like day-to-day: 420,000 people toiling over 25 departments delivering 10,000 services to the public, increasingly via over 3 billion annual transactions on its website, GOV.UK.

The data comes from someone well-placed to know what HMG really looks like from the inside – Lou Downe, Director of Design and Service Standards for the Government Digital Service (GDS), who told delegates at last week’s successful Think Smarter Working For Public Sector 2018 conference in Westminster that, “Government is the oldest and largest service provider in the UK.”

The problem, though: for totally valid historical reasons, very few of those services really join up in sensible ways – with the eighth most common Google search mentioning GOV.UK looking for a phone number for the DVLA so drivers can work out how to make those transactions work for them, Downe added – at a cost of at least £19m per year on human agents to help sort the confusion.

No surprise, maybe, given that one transaction can cross as many as four but often as many as 25 Departments to work – even starting a business can involve nine.

“Bad public sector design is the biggest unnecessary cost to the taxpayer,” Downe stated – before warning that just making the status quo digital will just make that complexity a little faster.

Downe amused many in the audience with a contrast between the clean design lines of 1960s British Rail and the fact that automated toilets are so complex and confusing for travellers “we need a video to work out how to use them”!

Downe ended by promising that the September publication of a new pan-governmental Service Standard should start to make a contribution to the redesign and rationalisation of these 10,000 services, adding that the watchword for GDS is now “The strategy is delivery and scale and sustainability how we’ll do it.”