Phone-bots and social-media alerts – Cabinet Office unveils £1bn plan for tech-powered efficiency savings

Specialist unit for assessing spending decisions awards £500k to support central department in use of automation and digital

The Cabinet Office hopes to save the government £1bn per year through a new scheme which aims to modernise and automate services.

The department has been awarded £500,000 from the Evaluation Task Force’s Accelerator Fund – a joint unit of the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury which assesses spending plans. The money awarded will be used to fund a programme of work which aims to save money by shifting services to digital channels, reducing paper use and automating processes.

Improvements could include the replacement of physical signatures with e-signatures; using electronic notifications via channels such as SMS and social media, instead of paper; and using phone-bots to make and receive automated phone calls to service users, the Cabinet Office said.

The department has estimated this could end up delivering annua savings of £1bn across government. The trial is separate to the government’s efficiency and savings review, announced in November’s Autumn Statement.

The scheme is one of four projects awarded a total of £1,285,000 from the Evaluation Accelerator Fund this year, in its second round of funding. The schemes will test and develop new data-driven approaches to policymaking and evaluation.

The funding round had been set to award £2.8m – the remainder of the £15m fund, which handed out £12.2m to 16 projects last year.

However, the Cabinet Office has now said a third round of funding is expected to launch in 2024.

Another of this year’s winning bids, from the Department for Transport, will see £450,000 invested in exploring how mobile network operator data can be used to support initiatives targeting electric vehicle uptake and usage. The department hopes mobile data – including geographical spread, charging locations and distances travelled – can be used to help locate charging infrastructure where it is needed most, as well as providing a more comprehensive evaluation of electric vehicle usage across the country.

The bids needed to demonstrate how they would provide robust evidence of financial or efficiency savings.

Teams across government departments and the What Works Network – a group of government research centres set up in 2013 to ensure policymaking is backed up by robust evidence – were invited to place bids for ideas that would test and evaluate the impact of new policies or approaches to delivering public services.

Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin said: “This is a government with innovation at its core and it’s vital that we channel that in the right way, ensuring decisions made by the government are data-driven. This funding will help teams drive innovation across government, creating the tools and data departments need to become more efficient and drive value for money. I’m looking forward to seeing the positive impact this will have on public services.”

Last year, the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service was awarded £933,000 to tackle drug misuse in prisons by monitoring wastewater. Following successful fieldwork, the trial is due to launch later this year.

Another project, led by the College of Policing, was awarded £1.7m to help test new ways of preventing violence against women and girls. The funding is now being used to further evaluate the use of Rapid Video Response for domestic abuse, having previously been trialled by Kent Police.

The Kent trial found that it had improved the response provided to victims, with the average wait time to speak to an officer reduced to three minutes, and estimated savings of between £119,000 and £190,000 per year. Rapid Video Response will now be replicated in other forces and different uses of the same technology will be tested to identify the potential of this approach across the country.

Tevye Markson

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