‘Time and technology move on’ – GDS explains spend-control overhaul

Government Digital Service reveals new model was road-tested with four departments


The Government Digital Service has shed more light on the reasoning behind the changes to its spend controls and claimed that the new model was conceived and created by five different government departments.

In a blog post, GDS said that, during its seven-year lifetime, it has “helped save over £1bn by working with departments to identify better and cheaper ways to deliver IT and digital products and services”. 

GDS was founded by the Cabinet Office in 2011, a year after the first iteration of the spend controls policy was implemented. Version five of the controls policy, which was published earlier this week, marks perhaps the most radical rethinking of the policy yet.

“Time and technology move on,” GDS said. “We want to make sure that [the process] continues to be as effective as possible, and that it gives departments the support they need.”

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The new policy requires departments to create and maintain a 15-month pipeline for digital spend over £100,000, and technology spend in excess of £5m. This model makes far greater provision for departments to, effectively, self-approve “business-as-usual” spending activity.

The policy changes were made in light of research of other government agencies conducted by GDS, followed by pilot projects with four departments.

“When we carried out research with departments, they told us they wanted more autonomy to assure their own projects and programmes, where appropriate,” GDS said. “They also said they wanted to make it easier to jointly determine where and how help is provided.”

It added: “This is a more agile, iterative model which will rely on and strengthen departments’ existing governance processes.”

GDS said that the pilot process demonstrated a number of key benefits, including “earlier engagement… ensuring approval is a smoother process”. It also helped bring “consistent application of standards”, as well as greater “collaboration between experts… regardless of departmental boundaries”.

The system ultimately delivered “a more iterative, holistic approach, while keeping the backstop of a hard control when standards are not being met”.

After the pilot process, the Cabinet Office and the four departments in question teamed up to work with a technical writer in creating the new controls policy. 

GDS said: “The process is not something that has been dictated by the centre of government – it has been built with and for users in departments.”

Work to understand the technology spending process across government and the wider public sector will be ongoing, GDS indicated. The organisation is currently engaged in procuring a tool for to help “manage the process, governance and data around digital spend portfolios”, and wants to hear from any organisations that could ultimately use such a platform. 

“We are particularly interested in local and devolved governments,” GDS said. “We’ve already started conversations with a few organisations about whether we can share, but we’d like to talk to more.”

Sam Trendall

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