Government getting ready for ‘biggest test since WWII’

Whitehall will have to be bigger and smarter to deal with the challenge of Brexit, Think Digital Government 2017 delegates warned

Posted 14 February 2017 by

A Digital Economy Bill almost out of the Lords, two complete new Ministries being set up from scratch, all hands on deck to try and get UK Plc ready to leave the European Union…

In case you didn’t know – it’s going to be quite a busy few years for the British public sector.

Judging by the mood music coming off the stage of last week’s important Think Digital Government 2017 get-together of central government ICT stakeholders, the sector is bracing itself for what it knows is coming with a mix of trepidation but also confidence, though.

As a result, Brexit is going to become more of a focus for civil servants than digital transformation, agreed many speakers.

Delegates came to hear what major Departments are doing about this mix of challenges. So what did they hear?

The Digital Economy move perhaps isn’t getting as much airplay as it should, for a start – it being, after all, “The introduction of a radical level of permission for the sector to start sharing data to support more personalised service delivery”, in the words of GlobalData public sector IT trend watcher Jesse Figueras.

Leaving the EU will also mean, she predicts, “The need for a bigger Whitehall, as so much as what used to be done in Brussels is repatriated to London,” she added.

“This is definitely the biggest test for Whitehall since World War II,” she noted.

But one of the Departments in the middle of all this is Defra, whose Permanent Secretary, Claire Moriarty, shared insights into how fresh thinking is starting to help build greater resilience into our state bureaucracy.

Moriarty claimed that a move away from more rigid ways of working to what she styled as “undesigned” processes has proven to be beneficial, and provide a clue as to how the sector might respond to the challenges the conference detailed.

“We’re removing barriers to allow greater sharing of expertise and to create more space to innovate,” said Moriarty, pointing to the way “undesigned” thinking led to not just 8,000 datasets being released to the public by deadline but 10,000 – with 17,000 now on GOV.UK.

“In terms of strategic thinking in our Department now, it’s not about ‘chaos’ but about creating the right conditions for new ways of working,” she added.

“When it comes to strategy, I like the quote that says it has to start ‘anywhere’ – and be followed ‘everywhere’,” she concluded.