What does the newly published Government Transformation Strategy mean for councils?

By: Carlos Oliveira on
7 minutes to read
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Yesterday, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Ben Gummer, announced the launch of the Government Transformation Strategy. The strategy has been a long time in the making and has gone through a number of false dawns, so it was encouraging that it has now seen the light of day.

One immediate observation is that the title is not “Digital Strategy”, as previously indicated, but instead “Transformation Strategy”. This shift in focus is something that we’ve been promoting for a while at Shaping Cloud with our Transformation Beyond Digital campaign and something we wholeheartedly endorse.

The document sets out 3 broad components that encompass the scope of the strategy:

  • transforming whole citizen-facing services – to continue to improve the experience for citizens, businesses and users within the public sector
  • full department transformation – affecting complete organisations to deliver policy objectives in a flexible way, improve citizen service across channels and improve efficiency
  • internal government transformation, which might not directly change policy outcomes or citizen-facing services but which is vital if government is to collaborate better and deliver digitally-enabled change more effectively.

These are big and far reaching aims, underpinned by the following vision statements:

We will transform the relationship between citizens and the state – putting more power in the hands of citizens and being more responsive to their needs.

We will transform government services and make government itself a digital organisation.


In order to deliver on that vision they outline 5 key objectives:

  • continue to deliver world-class digital services and transform the way government operates, from front end to back office, in a modern and efficient way
  • develop the right skills and culture among our people and leaders, and bring together policy and delivery to enable services to be delivered in a learning and iterative environment, focused on outcomes for citizens
  • build better workplace tools and processes to make it easier for public servants to work effectively, including sourcing, governance, workplace IT, businesses cases, human resources processes, common technology across the public sector and better digital tools for civil servants
  • make better use of data – not just for transparency, but to enable transformation across government and the private sector
  • create, operate, iterate and embed good use of shared platforms and reusable business capabilities to speed up transformation – including shared patterns, components and establishing open standards

Each of these core objectives are then broken out into greater detail with a clear set of targets that they wish to achieve by the end of the next Parliament in 2020. Of these numerous pledges there were a few that caught my eye:

deliver the major transformation programmes

It’s great to see a commitment to delivering on the Government Major Projects Portfolio, but they are called major projects for a reason and the progress to date indicates that they are going to have to start doing something radically different over the next 3 years in order to get there

embedding digital skills throughout government

As part of my role on the techUK Public Services Board, I’ve been involved in putting together their annual civil servants survey which last year found that only 14% of those surveyed rated their digital capability as “good”. So again, turning that situation around in a 3 year period feels like a very big challenge.

exiting large single supplier and multi-year IT contracts

Whilst the writing has been on the wall for a while, it is the first time the intent of Government has been made so clear. As an SME in the sector it is easy to see this as great news but there are two things that give me pause – the first, is that in order to deliver on their major projects, the government need the support of the major suppliers. The second takes me back to the same techUK survey that found 96% of civil servants felt that they didn’t understand how SMEs can meet their needs.

Overall, my view on the strategy can be summed up in 140 characters:

What about local government?

One word is conspicuous by its absence in the strategy – “council.” The word “local” only appears once and that is in relation to potentially opening up the Gov.uk publishing platform to some areas of it.

So how do you reconcile the ambition to transform the relationship between the citizen and government when the sector that accounts for the vast majority of the population’s interactions with government is not included? It has been something that has continuously frustrated me and many others who are involved in helping to drive a widespread transformation in the way that councils deliver their services.

For now the sector remains entirely dependant on the efforts of grass roots initiatives such as LocalGovDigital, alongside the growing number of CIOs and Digital Transformation Officers who are embracing many of the concepts and standards of GDS.

In November 2015, GDS was handed £450m in order to help transform 24 ministerial departments with digital technology, whilst at the same time over 400 councils in the UK have had to deal with 6 years of ongoing budget reductions – just taking the 10 councils that make up the Greater Manchester Combined Authority there has been £1.7bn of cuts.

Surely the time has come to begin funding a coordinated programme of digital transformation in the local sector? The strategy gets it spot on when it says:

citizens, businesses and other users want a better, more coherent experience when interacting with government services – one that meets the raised expectations set by the many other (non-government) services and tools they use every day

But how can this happen at a local level when they are caught in a permanent cycle of finding budget savings whilst still being able to deliver the core services that they are mandated to supply to their citizens? What makes the whole situation even more Joseph Heller-esque is that with a properly funded approach to transformation in councils, many of the budget targets could be met without making people deal with overflowing bins and an ever increasing number of potholes in the road – two minor, but direct indicators of the effects the cuts are having.

Interested in exploring what transformation can look like in the public sector? Register for one of our Transformation Beyond Digital Workshops

About the Author

Founder of SPINR, Carlos has been advocating how the use of a SOA approach based around API's can provide the platform for true transformation in the Public Sector. Aside from SPINR he is also the Chair of the techUK Local Public Services Committe that aims to improve the engagment between the public sector and the IT industry.