Martin Ferguson, Director of Policy and Research, Socitm
Her Majesty’s 64th Queen’s speech involved less ceremony than usual. As a result of the Conservative party lacking an overall majority in Parliament it also lacked several measures promised in that party’s manifesto.
Those councils involved in the development of autonomous vehicles will be interested in a bill which would extend motor insurance to cover them. But there is material in the speech for all Socitm members to consider – as well as gaps the government should think about filling.
The Queen’s speech includes a new data protection law which will implement the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and directive on data processing by law enforcement. This is ironic given the Brexit process which will dominate this session of Parliament, but unavoidable given GDPR’s 2018 deadline and the need to bring data protection into line with the penetration of all things digital. The bill will also include a right to be forgotten, which although aimed at social media platforms, could impact on the public sector.
The speech also includes plans for a digital charter, supporting the government’s aim to make the UK the safest place to be online. Briefing notes on the speech say this “will make sure that technology companies do more to protect their users and improve safety online” and points out Theresa May’s agreement with other G7 countries to do more in this area. But as a non-legislative measure, a charter may be limited in what it can achieve.
Another planned non-legislative measure is a counter-terrorism review, which among other things aims to stop the spreading of extremist material online. The briefing notes say that this will mean “encouraging tech companies to do more to remove harmful content from their networks”. Again, while this does not appear to be aimed at the public sector, it may have implications for public IT infrastructure and networks in schools, libraries, care homes and elsewhere.
There is plenty that we would like to have seen in the government’s programme that is not in the speech. On social care, following the Conservative u-turn on charges during the election, its plan is just to consult on proposals. Socitm believes that the government should be moving at pace from high-level strategy, exemplified in Personalised Care 2020, to widespread practical integration with healthcare in England, including shared digital care records, as well as a single information governance toolkit for government, and model designs and digitally-enabled processes for key areas of social care. More resources and action on place-based integration across the public sector, rather than high-level strategies, would generally be welcome.
While a review of online security makes sense, the government appears to be focusing on technology companies. More is needed to secure the public sector as a whole too, such as through better awareness, risk management and threat mitigation training for senior managers, and incident response, in local public services. In general, the government could help in establishing more regional capabilities in cyber security skills, health and social care integration, place-based data aggregation and analytics, outcomes-based service redesign and digital transformation and digital inclusion.
The local public sector also needs support in recruiting, retaining and training skilled staff from all backgrounds, as well as improving leadership skills.
Finally, there is a case for central government to provide seed funding to facilitate a quick and widespread transition to shared platforms where the case for such can be made, with room for the Government Digital Service to undertake further work in this area. Without government support, progress on shared services will be slow and patchy rather than transformative.