Why Scotland can become a beacon for shared services

Paul Heath of McAfee believes Scottish NHS bodies could show lead the way in adopting a new form of purchasing

Credit: Jane Barlow/PA Wire/PA Images

Technology is fundamental to delivering an increasing number of local and national government services to citizens on the channels they want, and ensuring these services are secure. 

As purse strings and resources become ever tighter, however, it’s increasingly important for public sector bodies to take a more strategic approach to digitising and securing their procurement processes.

An approach that will move away from the formulaic, silo-based IT purchasing methods employed by many public sector organisations, and which requires resources to be more widely shared. Collaborative approaches to IT purchasing, while not appearing to be especially impactful, will ultimately drive down costs and provide users with a more seamless experience of government services.

The Government Digital Service, for example, was launched in 2011 as a shared, standardised platform designed to replace the costly individual IT services deployed in each government department, while the Government as a Platform model was introduced to bring an end to the siloed approach to IT services across various different government departments.  Unfortunately, however, a level of resistance resulted in poor levels of adoption of Government as a Platform, leading to it being declared “dead” by former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude just two years after its launch. 

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Challenges around moving away from traditional formulaic IT purchasing have also meant that even those organisations within the public sector that see the transformative value of taking a more collaborative approach are struggling to do so. Given the potential benefits it offers in terms of overall services and cost savings, however, collaboration shouldn’t be entirely abandoned and, should, instead, be more widely encouraged. 

Scotland as a flagship
Following the devastating ransomware attack on the NHS in 2017, the Scottish Government and the National Cyber Resilience Leaders’ Board jointly developed the Learning and Skills Action Plan for Cyber Resilience to promote greater cyber resilience of digital public services in Scotland. The report recommends a dynamic approach to cybersecurity purchasing, providing a list of cyber-resilient specialist suppliers which Scottish public bodies are able to access to help support their cybersecurity efforts. It misses a significant opportunity, however, in neglecting to highlight the potential for Scotland to become a beacon of best practice on a collaborative approach to security purchasing. 

Take, for example, Scotland’s healthcare system. Compared to the 251 NHS Trusts in England, NHS Scotland consists of just 14 regional NHS Boards.  The potential for shared services and collaboration is much greater here, with fewer stakeholders to answer to and hoops to jump through, and Scotland has the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the UK the benefits to both the overall cybersecurity of government services and to the public purse. 

By engaging each of these 14 Boards, and persuading them of the cost and efficiency savings that “one common infrastructure” could offer them, particularly in the current conditions faced by the NHS, Scotland’s digital office could quickly build a case for collaborative procurement of cybersecurity technology.

Many organisations within the UK’s public sector remain reticent when it comes to changing their IT purchasing, wishing to maintain some degree of autonomy, although some are beginning to consider a more centralised, common approach. By serving as a flagship across the UK public sector, however, NHS Scotland could start changing hearts and minds and, in turn, change the way UK government purchases its technology.


Sam Trendall

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