Improving Whitehall IT systems faster would have boosted morale, says Maude

Former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said that he would improve Whitehall’s IT and technology much more quickly if he had his five year’s in the role again.

Former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said better IT would have boosted morale – Photo credit: PA Images

Maude said that, with the major reforms he implemented – such as pension reforms and a massive reduction in the size of the civil service – better technology could have been a way of improving morale.

“All this time we were asking them to do really difficult stuff and giving them rubbish IT to work on; worse than you’d have at home,” he said, adding that faster improvements would have been a “morale kicker”.

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Maude made the comments in a podcast reflecting on his role in bringing digital innovation to government and the creation of the Government Digital Service, released this week by the not-for-profit organisation the Centre for Public Impact.

Maude said that it took a long time for the civil service to see the value of the GDS, which was brought in to oversee digital transformation in 2011.

“A lot of people in Whitehall thought, ‘Why has Francis brought all these weird hippies into government?’,” Maude said.

“That’s why it was so important to just do some stuff and show that actually these are really serious, capable people with huge standing in the industry,” he continued. “It’s just a different world from the world in which government IT had operated – a world that was cheaper, quicker, better, more flexible, more adaptable and more capable of doing what the citizen wants.”

He added later that if IT systems had been revamped more quickly it could have changed perceptions. “Then the civil service would have said, ‘Well these weird hippies have suddenly produced some IT I can work with’.”

Meanwhile Bracken, who also spoke on the podcast to look back on his time since leaving GDS in September last year, said that if he could do something differently, he would have worked harder to improve the internal software used for activities like procurement.

“What we ended up creating was extremely good and valuable services for 60-odd million people,” he said. “But [Whitehall] still had to work on pretty shonky services […] and we would have got so much good will had we done that.”

Both men portrayed the push to digital as something that had initially caused confusion and had perhaps taken place under the radar, with Bracken saying that there was a sense that the GDS team was “not quite taken seriously”.

He said that they had kept moving against the resistance – “moving quicker so they never knew what we were up to”.

Maude echoed this sentiment, saying that it was a “war of movement” within the civil service. “Don’t get into entrenched positions,” he said. “You’re constantly on the move, move onto the next thing before people know what’s happening.”

He added that the positive part of the way the GDS worked was that it worked quickly and iteratively.

“Mike’s mantra was ‘strategy is delivery – get on and do it’,” Maude said. “My mantra was ‘JFDI – just do it’.”


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