Members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee have called on the government to explain why the digital strategy “continues to be a work-in-progress” almost a year after it was first due.
MPs have called for an explanation for delays – Photo credit: PA
In a letter sent to digital and culture minister Matt Hancock today, committee chairman and Conservative MP Stephen Metcalfe said the committee was disappointed at the continued delay.
He noted that former digital economy minister Ed Vaizey had said in March 2016 that the strategy was signed off and awaiting a publication slot – but that the strategy still did not have a publication date.
The letter was sent in response to the government’s official response to the committee’s Digital Skills Crisis report, which was sent to the MPs last week and published today.
However, the report was published in June last year, meaning the government response took four months longer to finalise than government guidelines suggest.
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In addition, Metcalfe indicated the committee was disappointed that the response did not address any of the report’s “explicit references” to the digital strategy.
This includes one recommendation that called for the digital strategy to be published “without further delay” and for it to include benchmarks and outcomes to measure success, goals for developing basic digital skills and a framework for the public sector.
In response, the government did not refer directly to the strategy, instead saying: “We are already among the most digitally connected countries in the world with a globally successful digital economy.
“Following the decision of the British people to leave the European Union, we have been engaging closely with the digital industries to understand their concerns and priorities, and will continue to do so.”
This indicates one of the original reasons for the delay: the vote in favour of Brexit, which prompted the government to rethink the strategy. It is thought that further delays were caused first by changes to leadership at the Government Digital Service, and then by a push to redraft the strategy that was prepared before Christmas to address concerns about a lack of measurable outcomes.
Nonetheless, Metcalfe said in his letter to Hancock that, “without the strategy being published alongside the response, it is difficult to see why the response could not have been produced within the usual two-month period.”
He called on Hancock to provide an explanation for the causes of both delays and a final date for publication.
The most recent response from the Cabinet Office was that the strategy would be published “in due course”.