Last December brought a surprise. "Putting the Frontline First: smarter government" an action plan presented by the Treasury to deliver better public services at a lower cost. The message was co-ordinated across Whitehall and with other bodies. Joining up to put many more services online. Digital engagement. Directgov to be dramatically expanded. Short phrases because these are policy headlines. "Truly excellent services that are universal to all but personal to each", or a DIY public sector?
So are they delivering? Will it be done well and securely? Will it trickle down to local government services? Is the Coalition Government keeping up the momentum? At a summer party last week, when I asked my MP how the Coalition is going (he's on that side of the House), I was reminded of alarums and excursions - Shakespeare got it so right about men in a power group.
During the early part of this year, there was background activity. Even during the pre-election purdah period we heard about it. Indications that cyber security concerns would bring pressure on Whitehall Departments to be safe online - safe for us to use, safe against attacks. The Office of Cyber Security had been created for that purpose, as promised last year.
From mid April until mid June: silence. Then announcements began to appear, along with some informal messages.
15th June from Cabinet Office: Whitehall shake-up in drive for efficiency. An Efficiency Board full of talent. A Cabinet Office Structural Reform plan. A whole list of tasks (although not always clearly titled). Those tasks nearly all started in June. A few start later. One of them (Establish and have in place a robust implementation plan for each central govt dept) runs May to Sept this year.
18th June from Cabinet Office: Martha Lane Fox reinstated as UK Digital Champion, to be a member of the Efficiency Board. DirectGov enhancement to resume.
Martha Lane Fox, who became the face of dotcom Britain in the 90s when she co-founded lastminute.com.
25th June: the second stage of the public transport smart and integrated ticketing project is definitely approved for the 9 largest metropolitan areas outside London - the informal news is that the funding is only to the end of this current financial year. ITSO Ltd's funding also appears to be OK for a while, but not yet confirmed to the Members.
End June: Ian Watmore is back in Cabinet Office. Chief Operating Officer of the Efficiency and Reform Group. But not visible until September - behind the scenes until then, getting himself up to speed part time, then he will be working on the current year savings (the £6.2bn). In 2004 he had a plan for regenerating govt ICT, so he knows what's what. That plan included taking some smart token concepts through into service delivery. Other countries are doing it: Germany is now following the Baltic States in introducing a citizen token for use online, complete with digital certificate for strong authentication (its also an ID card, but we don't talk about that here).
Ian Watmore, a former permanent secretary and former chief executive of the Football Association.
So we cannot yet really be sure what will happen to keep us and the public sector safe and conveniently online, or when. But recent experience indicates one word about the engaged people in the public sector: training.
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