A government that works for everyone

Oliver Dowden, Parliamentary Secretary and Minister for Implementation, delivered this speech at the Sprint 18 event

Thank you, Trisha. Good morning, everyone.

Welcome to Sprint 2018. I am delighted to be here today. As Trisha said, Sprint is an opportunity to come together and celebrate the fantastic work we’ve done, the work we’re currently doing and the work we plan to do.

As I can see from the buzz in the room in the first few minutes, there has never been a more exciting time to work on the digital agenda in government - and on a personal level, I’m genuinely proud to be part of it. The UK’s digital government is rightly seen as a global leader; we design and deliver services that set new standards used across the world.

Through transformation, innovation and collaboration, you have not only saved billions of pounds across government, but you’ve changed the way people interact with government every day. What you do really matters. It really does genuinely improve people’s experience of government in their day to day lives.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is evolving. First, the challenge was to create a digital interface that helped people interact with government. As a result of that, hundreds of public services have digital front ends. But a digital interface isn’t transformation - so next, GDS have taken on the challenge of end-to-end digitisation, looking at whole services to see how digital, data and technology expertise could actually help make government better for everybody. And now GDS is looking to the future - to be the innovation incubator for government, staying ahead of the curve by identifying new solutions to some of the biggest challenges in the public sector.

I’ve made it a personal priority to get to know the great people at GDS - from my first meeting when I joined Cabinet Office, to joining their All Staff event in February, to visiting GDS teams in Whitechapel last month - it really is an inspiring, energetic place to be. And I look forward to championing this next exciting phase and its development.

And having seen the agenda for today, I am in no doubt that you will leave feeling inspired and energised about the future.

We’ll hear from colleagues across the whole of government: from the Department for International Trade to The Food Standards Agency and, of course, from Sprint’s organisers, the Government Digital Service.

Events like this are an important reminder of why we do the work we do, of how we are making people’s lives better.

As my central role as Minister for Implementation, my role is to make sure the promises made by government are fulfilled, that the work we say we’re going to do gets done.

The desire to ‘get things done’ is something which, I’m sure, motivates and inspires everyone in this room.

Because, as you’ve proved over the past few years, when you get things done, when you transform services, when you understand what people need and deliver those things, you lift the quality of their lives.

For example, when DWP’s carers allowance service was digitised, five times fewer ineligible claims were made than the existing paper based alternative. Digitisation means that users now know from the outset whether or not they are eligible for the benefit.

In 2017, over 38 million vehicles were taxed electronically. The overall electronic take up rate was 82.3%, nearly a 4% increase from 2016.

Furthermore, 6.5 million vehicles were taxed by direct debit payment for the first time, with an additional 7 million direct debit customers auto-renewing their licence.

These examples show just how much of an impact our work has on people’s lives.

The work we do as a collective means that the UK government continues to lead the way and continues on its mission to be a government that works for everyone. This of course, requires innovation, one of today’s key themes.

So I’d like to use this opportunity to not only shine a light on the innovative work happening across government, but to announce the first five challenges to benefit from the GovTech fund.

As you may remember, in November, the Prime Minister announced the creation of the £20m GovTech fund. The idea of this will be to incentivise Britain’s tech firms to come up with smart and scalable solutions for public sector problems, or challenges, but at the heart of it, it’s about improving services for the benefit of citizens.

Following the announcement, 50 challenges were submitted by both central and local government organisations.

Those went through rigorous scrutiny by the cross-departmental GovTech assessment panel, made up of colleagues from: BEIS, GDS, DCMS, Treasury and Innovate UK which is the UK’s innovation agency as well as representatives from the devolved Northern Ireland administration.

Five challenges have been selected for funding in the first round. They will, in due course, become competitions. We will not be launching all the competitions immediately. I will tell you about all five, but only one of the challenges, and I will leave this one until the end, will be launched today so tech companies can propose solutions to these challenges.

The first challenge to be selected for funding came from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Tackling waste is a key environmental and economic objective for the UK.

Now, as a country, we’ve seen a consciousness around this is rising all the time. And as a country the UK is already a world leader on tackling plastic waste. You will have seen in the news, that a consultation to ban single use items like plastic straws will start later on this year.

But as DEFRA rightly points out that in order to understand the situation, we must understand where waste comes from, what it is and where it ends up.

There are currently gaps in that data, especially for commercial, construction and demolition waste.

DEFRA’s challenge is for a new technological approach which could help record, check and track waste. It could help boost productivity, reduce costs and protect both human health and the environment.

Efforts like this give us hope that our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren may enjoy a cleaner and richer natural environment than we enjoy today.

The second challenge was submitted by Monmouthshire Council, who want to tackle loneliness and rural isolation.

This is an enormous challenge. Loneliness, a subject featured all too often in news, is a threat to mental health and physical health. Earlier this year, the Prime Minister implemented the first of the Jo Cox Commission’s recommendations – appointing Tracey Crouch as ministerial lead on loneliness.

Loneliness is linked to dementia and coronary heart disease. Research shows that it is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Monmouthshire Council recognised that rural transport provision can sometimes be weak, compounding the problem of isolation.

Car-share initiatives are already underway across the country but a technological solution, identifying vehicles with spare capacity, designed with the elderly in mind, could support rural economies and reduce those health and social problems.

This challenge will also ask for innovative solutions to tackle loneliness more generally.

The next challenge was submitted by the Department for Transport and the Royal Borough of Greenwich, and it seeks to address traffic congestion.

Traffic congestion is inconvenient - it stifles productivity and, in short, it costs. A report published in February showed that the average motorist is stuck in traffic for 31 hours a year and it costs motorists more than £1000 a year.

This challenge seeks better ways of collecting and using data, but also wants innovative interventions to deal with both live traffic issues and improve long-term planning in a practical and affordable way.

Our fourth selected challenge was proposed jointly by the councils of Durham and Blaenau Gwent, and asks how we could use our existing fleets of council vehicles to improve local services.

Buses, highway maintenance vehicles, meals on wheels, recycling and bin lorries leave their local depots every morning, passing homes and business on the way.

The Durham and Blaenau Gwent councils ask: “what if we could use these vehicles to spot problems and help us deliver the services people need more quickly?”

Using smart sensors, these vehicles could photograph potholes, measure air quality, identify fly-tipping and look at parking capacity, all in real time. They could actively improve some of the services that matter most for people’s quality of life.

I think you’ll agree that all these challenges are all deserving of funding. I look forward to seeing the solutions from tech firms over the coming weeks and months.

I am now pleased to announce the challenge which will go out to tech companies as a competition today, selected for, among other worthy reasons, its impact nationally and internationally.

The Home Office is challenging the sector to apply artificial intelligence to identify and take down Daesh terrorist recruiting images that are spread online.

We have the technology to automate the detection of Daesh video propaganda online. In fact, we can identify 94% of Daesh videos with 99.995% accuracy.

However, more than 80% of Daesh media is still imagery. These images are tailored for local markets and rarely contain consistent features. We’ll be challenging the tech sector to develop an innovative way to successfully detect harmful Daesh recruiting images with the same, if not better, success rates as video.

Now that this is out as a competition, I am excited to see the solutions proposed by tech companies. And now that the GovTech fund, the first of its kind, is active, I am excited to see the difference it is going to make in stimulating this emerging market: helping both the public sector - by solving problems across organisations - and the private sector - by helping innovative companies develop their offers.

You can find out more about the challenges, how to submit a challenge for the second round, and how to bid for funding in the competition process at the GovTech Catalyst market stall, which I visited earlier today.

The GovTech fund is something I am actively supporting and promoting. It helps public sector departments address problems proactively, and it makes them more efficient. As Sir Michael Barber’s report into improving value in public spending says ‘we need to unleash a new era in public service provision by harnessing technology, creativity, and ideas.’

The fund supports the delivery of the Artificial Intelligence Sector Deal, part of the government’s Industrial Strategy by stimulating innovation in the economy, driving the development of the UK’s growing GovTech sector. It provides more opportunities for businesses to access public procurement opportunities. We can also export our brilliant entrepreneurial expertise to other countries facing the same policy and productivity challenges.

The fund also encourages openness: we need to be able to discuss the issues we face. Doing so helps to maintain our reputation as a leading digital government.

There are other ways, of course, that we maintain our position at the top.

As I mentioned earlier I want to use this moment to celebrate the excellent work that make us world leaders.

One of my responsibilities as Minister for Implementation is efficiency and controls. I am especially proud of the assurance function, which, as a whole, is held in high regard internationally.

This work is as much about saving pounds on the bottom line as it is about taxpayers. Efficiencies and controls mean that money can be redistributed to other areas which benefit UK citizens, not to mention enabling government to build and buy solutions together.

As a function, astounding work has been done. Since 2012, there have been over £1.2 billion savings through spending controls, including £450 million saved in 2016 to 2017 alone.

We’re also buying better.

The work of the Digital Marketplace, which I saw first hand last week, delivered by GDS in partnership with the Crown Commercial Service, is likewise groundbreaking.

It really is vital that small businesses can access Government contracts as simply as possible.

We all know small businesses are the engine room of our economy and I am determined that we should do everything we can to support them.

They drive our economy, they spur growth and they employ 16 million people. That is why, in line with our modern industrial strategy, we have set a challenging aspiration that a third of procurement spend should be with small businesses by 2022. We are doing more than ever to break down barriers for small businesses that want to supply to the public sector.

Work continues to ensure that the bidding processes are simplified across the public sector, with complex pre-qualification questionnaires abolished for low-value contracts.

I am pleased to say, the most recent figures show that Digital Marketplace is really leading the way. And since it was established of all its spending, 46.6% is spent with SMEs. That’s £1.40 of every £3 - comfortably clearing the target of £1, and four years ahead of the 2022 target. Once again showing that digital can lead the way not just in terms of public delivery of services but also small businesses as well.

Work continues to reduce burdens for business, particularly small businesses.

The Digital Marketplace has changed the UK procurement landscape and now it’s ready to go global.

GDS and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are partnering to deliver the Global Digital Marketplace, which will be open to international governments.

UK suppliers will have access to the global market. International governments will be able to make their procurement more transparent. The digital, data and technology sectors both here and abroad will benefit.

Suppliers in the UK will benefit so that even the tiniest company in Borehamwood, for example, which can’t afford to build an office in a Latin American or a Southern African country, can still do business with the government there because they have the security and legal support of UK-based frameworks.

Supporting our businesses is now even more vital as Britain explores new global industries built on our digital and technical strengths.

As we exit from the EU, it is vital that UK suppliers reach out to the global market. We want to remain competitive and to keep our economy robust and dynamic. We want our digital, data and technology sectors to thrive and this work will help that to happen.

No other government in the world is doing work of this kind. But, I want to be clear: we are absolutely not telling other countries: ‘You must do this’. We’re saying: ‘We’re listening to your problems, we’ve had them too, so let’s not reinvent the wheel to find a solution. We’ll help get the tools and advice you need. We’ll share where we went wrong. We’re still learning and you can help us too.’

Although Sprint is a truly cross-governmental celebration, I do want to mention specifically the work of GDS.

The Former Prime Minister David Cameron said the creation of GDS was a great unsung triumph.

At that time, I was his deputy chief of staff. I was a witness to its creation, and it was with great interest that I’ve seen first hand seven years on the progress GDS has made and the work underway to digitise public services. I met with the GOV.UK, Digital Marketplace and and GovTech Fund teams. You will hear more from them today. What my visit really highlighted was that digital government isn’t just something we talk about in the abstract anymore. It’s happening, and day to day we can see the results.

At the same time, capturing the potential of emerging technology to support that service transformation is an opportunity we cannot ignore. GDS is leading the way to create a cross-government portfolio of some of the best work in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, the Internet of Things and cybersecurity, all applied to the challenge of meeting user needs.

The creation of end-to-end services by 2020 is a commitment in the Government Transformation Strategy. Government services should be end-to-end services.

Step-by-step navigation is a new feature on GOV.UK which enables that. There is a workshop happening later where you’ll hear more about its opportunities and benefits, but this is absolutely something we should be doing, it should be the direction that all departments are going in.

Work like this improves life for people: they have a good user experience, they understand the task they have to do, they can then get on with their day. It fulfils our purpose as a government. We are enabling people to interact with government in the most straightforward way.

It saves money and it improves the reputation of government: both in the minds of citizens but also around the world - this work breaks new ground.

The first step-by-step journeys are already live on GOV.UK, including ‘Learn to drive a car: step by step’. It has already been used more than a million times since its launch in November.

The GOV.UK team is working closely with departments to build these, and many more will be appearing in the next few months. The team has identified 400 services across government which would benefit from this approach.

Step-by-step navigation can take people through every major life event: from buying a home to filing tax returns to planning for retirement.

And perhaps the person indeed with more time in retirement might want to give back to the community by organising a street party to celebrate an upcoming royal wedding for example: the process of applying to your local council to hold one, could well be a step-by-step process on GOV.UK.

This approach could save millions of pounds and the initial results are very encouraging.

I spoke before about our shared desire to ‘get things done’. But we’re not getting things done for the sake of getting things done. It’s because we want to make a difference.

We’re helping people by delivering truly user-focussed services, we’re helping departments to spend money in the right way through assurance. We’re helping business owners through the Digital Marketplace and soon, the Global Marketplace.

In so many areas we have succeeded and, indeed, led the way. I must single out GDS, the organisation for which I am responsible. The work it does to assist departments as they go through transformation is invaluable and, as we prepare for EU exit, it will be vital.

However, in so many areas we have much work left to do but we are in a strong position to handle the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.

I support what you do, I appreciate what you do and for this you genuinely have my thanks.

I look forward to working with you as you continue to revolutionise the way a government serves its people, so that it truly is a government that works for everyone.

Enjoy the day. Thank you.


Cabinet Office
Oliver Dowden CBE MP