Dowden pledges ‘spring’ publication for innovation strategy

Document scheduled to be released by the end of March is still in line to publish in the coming weeks, minister tells conference

The government’s innovation strategy is still on track for publication in the coming weeks, Cabinet Office implementation minister Oliver Dowden has insisted at a technology conference.

Details of the strategy, which is being led by the Government Digital Service, first emerged last year following a report commissioned from external consultant Martin Smith in 2017.

At the Government ICT Conference in London this week, Dowden referred to the publication timescale for the strategy as “spring” rather than the previously pledged “end of the fiscal year”, which would have required publication by the end of March. However, the wording-change did not suggest a major alteration to the publication timescale.

Dowden – whose ministerial brief includes responsibility for the GDS, Civil Service HR, shared services, the Crown Commercial Service and cyber resilience – said the strategy would share the GDS’s vision of how it and the wider Cabinet Office can lay the foundations for government to use emerging technologies.

“The idea of this is to encourage collaboration between the public and private sectors to experiment together to find innovative solutions to public sector challenges,” he said. “The strategy will guard against the risks, and there are risks that come with new technologies and digital developments. 

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“But it will also highlight the opportunities, and how departments can benefit from them to produce improved public services and better value for money.

“The strategy will cover issues that public sector teams face when developing, procuring and scaling emerging technologies. It will address the requirements on skills, leadership and governance that these technologies bring, including the need to ensure they are used ethically. This will also support the wider aims and ambitions of the government’s industrial strategy, which is designed to create an economy that boosts productivity and builds a Britain fit for the future.”

Dowden said that it was crucial for the innovation strategy to be developed in collaboration with “experts inside and outside of government”, adding that he had met with as many experts as his diary would permit for that reason.

“This strategy will set the direction of travel and I hope that as minister I will be able to attract the attention, resource and funding to deliver the best public services,” he said. 

Referencing conversations with Treasury officials and chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss, Dowden sad he believed the “whole of government” was committed to the objectives the strategy intends to address.

“As we approach the next spending round we’re thinking about all these challenges and how we can use these emerging technologies to drive greater efficiencies and better public services,” he said.

Elsewhere in his speech at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Dowden ran through the latest “challenge” projects to progress through the GovTech Catalyst fund, created to direct private sector innovation towards solving public sector problems.

They include an Oxfordshire County Council project to investigate the management of autonomous vehicles by local traffic-control systems; a Leeds City Council bid to explore how sensors can be used to monitor the condition of social housing, without raising privacy concerns; and a digital tool to clarify planning rules for landowners and developers, sought by Scottish National Heritage.

Torfaen County Council in Wales has been approved to progress work on a system that would allow it to better manage its social-care data to more accurately predict people’s needs and reduce bed-blocking at local hospitals.

The final new GovTech Catalyst fund project outlined by Dowden was a scheme proposed by Waltham Forest Council in north-east London that would explore how geospatial technology can be used to accelerate housebuilding.

Sam Trendall

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