Spending watchdog reveals details of GDS probe

The National Audit Office has published the terms of its review of the Government Digital Service, which include asking if it is capable of supporting future government digital transformation programmes. 

The NAO are to review the work of GDS as the service moves into sleek new building in Aldgate – Photo credit: Derwent London

The review was first revealed in the NAO’s report on the Rural Payments Agency and the botched overhaul of the system used to pay subsidies to farmers – a project that GDS was eventually taken off.

The NAO said the study – entitled Digital Transformation in Government – would assess how effective GDS has been in supporting better use of technology and business transformation in government.

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It said: “This includes whether the role and responsibility of GDS is clearly stated and understood, and how it is changing; the progress made by GDS in transforming government services since 2011 and whether GDS is well-placed to support future digital transformation programmes.”

In the report on the RPA, the NAO said that it planned to focus on “whether the centre of government is supporting better use of technology and business transformation in government”.

In the terms for the GDS study, the NAO also noted the £450m awarded to GDS in the 2015 spending review, and that its size had grown in recent years – there are now 650 members of staff, a number GDS boss Kevin Cunnington last week said he expected to remain fairly stable.

As well as its own flagship programmes, such as GOV.UK, GDS has been involved in a number of high-profile digital projects across government, including the attempt to upgrade the RPA’s payment system and the much delayed Universal Credit scheme – a role that has also attracted criticism.

A recent analysis of Universal Credit by the Institute for Government found that the GDS team brought in to help address some of the problems the Department for Work and Pensions was facing with delivering the scheme was initially “very naïve” about how complex the task was, and would not discuss the previous work done by DWP and its IT suppliers – instead attempting to rebuild from scratch.

GDS has also been marred with reports of internal rifts recently, as former leader Stephen Foreshew-Cain and a number of senior leaders announced they were leaving the service over the summer.

The NAO said it was taking evidence for the study, but that it was unlikely to respond to every submission.


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