In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

The Digital Transformation of Government


What does the future hold? (Edited: Penn)

It is 2016 and the world has changed. We can read about whatever we want on a computer that we hold in our hands. We can wear bracelets that track our fitness. We can contact friends, and arrange to meet, with a few clicks.


The dawn of the internet burns with innovation. Digital transformation touches modern government: technological advances, like internet connections across the population and the interrogation of large databases, alleviates constraints on the design of public services.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) redesigned the main UK government website, now GOV.UK, winning awards [1] for their “well thought-out, yet understated design”.


What’s inside? The future. (Source: GOV.UK)

The sleek simplification and unification of the new GOV.UK website has also cut expenditure. The National Audit Office published in 2007 [2] that the annual running costs of central government websites were £208m. In 2013 [3], those reported costs were £111m. Whilst the main website is a portal for citizens wishing to know more about what their government is doing, or to search for jobs, it is not the only method of digital transformation.

Digital Transformation

Prior to 2014 [4], tax discs used to be sent to every car owner in the country, every year. These tax discs were a notice that the car’s owner had paid the Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). This meant costs were incurred in preparing, printing, and sending these paper discs, and ensuring they could not easily be counterfeited. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the police were now both reliant on an electronic register for checking non-compliance with the car tax, so the paper disc became obsolete. This disc was then scrapped by 2014. Owners could also pay the VED by a monthly direct debit from a current account, which was not available before.

There are future realms for digital revolution inside the aged walls of Whitehall. The Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015 [5] wanted to “make the government simple to deal with by investing £1.8 billion in digital transformation, replacing tax returns with digital tax accounts, and building one simple payment mechanism for all central government services”.

Other departments also do not have coherence with their functional arms.


This is a map of the criminal justice system. (Source: GDS)

Mike Bracken of the GDS [6] wrote of the criminal justice system:

The more you look at this map, and the rest of the (extremely detailed) work the team has done so far, the more you realise that the criminal justice system isn’t a system at all. In reality, it’s a series of events and processes made of bits of policy from MoJ and the Home Office, interpretation from the Judiciary, implementation from local police forces and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), the Crown Prosecution Service and much more besides. Each one of those acts as a separate entity. A silo.

Whilst there are strong constitutional reasons for the judiciary to be segregated from the Home Office, it does not mean that the information about suspects and prisoners should be stored in distinct formats. Ensuring basic data structure would prevent the need for police and court officers to copy words written in one way, in one form, into a second box on second form, held elsewhere.

Digital Services

Digital services are not just another public works project. It is an opportunity to consider, carefully, what our government should be doing, and how best to utilise available and nascent technology to achieve those aims.


[1] BBC, 2013. wins Design of the Year Award. Available from: [Accessed: 2nd January 2016]

[2] National Audit Office, 2007. Government on the internet: progress in delivering information and services online. Available from: [Accessed: 2nd January 2016]

[3] Cabinet Office, 2013. Annual report on central government websites. Available from: [Accessed: 2nd January 2016]

[4] BBC, 2013. Car tax disc to be axed after 93 years. Available from: [Accessed: 2nd January 2016]

[5] HM Treasury, 2015. Spending review and autumn statement 2015. Available from: [Accessed: 2nd January 2016]

[6] Bracken, M., 2016. Mapping new ideas for the criminal justice system. Available from: [Accessed: 2nd January 2016]



This entry was posted on January 2, 2016 by in National Politics and tagged , , .
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