Mark Say has his doubts:
On a couple of weeks reflection, and a few conversations with people around Whitehall, my initial impression of the Transformational Government paper is unchanged: the success of the strategy will depend largely on what the customer group directors and the Service Transformation Board do to break down the old silos.
I’m impressed by the intentions, but believe this can’t be done without a few heads being banged together, and I’m not convinced that the paper gives them the authority to bang those heads.
The customer group directors are responsible for “cutting across the organisational boundaries”, i.e. telling different government bodies to share information, give outsiders access to their systems and spend money on systems that would be used by other organisations.
If they hit resistance they can take it up to the Service Transformation Board. In turn, its members have the rank to lay down the law in their own departments. But what if they are not inclined to do so? It’s one of the enduring characteristics of government that the players are happy to agree with something in principle, but then decide that it’s not really practical in their own neck of the woods.
The strategy document says the board can “challenge inconsistency or deviation from agreed standards or best practice”. I can’t help thinking that “challenge” does not give it the power to kick dissenters up the rear end. It’s the kind of language that’s common in government documents, promising much, but just fuzzy enough to provide a way out.
The question of authority is compounded by the role of a minister. These efforts are only going to stick if there is someone at Cabinet level ready to chuck their weight around. In the few years that the Cabinet Office has been in charge of central e-government we haven’t seen a lot of ministerial enthusiasm. John Hutton made some encouraging noises for the strategy’s launch, but he was literally gone (to the DWP) by the end of the day. Two weeks later he hasn’t been replaced, which reinforces the impression that nobody in government takes the Cabinet Office position all that seriously. Whoever gets the job is unlikely to be one of the heavyweights.
I’ll acknowledge that this comes from a journalist’s perspective, and most of us hacks have a cynical streak running through us, but I need more convincing. And for the record, I would also be delighted to be proved wrong.