Labour wants a truly digital government. Photo: Flickr/Wonderlane
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What is Labour's plan for building a digital government?

Innovation and democracy.

Five years ago I entered politics for the same reason I went into engineering almost a quarter of a century earlier – I wanted to make the world work for everyone, not just a lucky few.

Digital should be a means to that classic Labour goal of sharing power amongst the many. Rather than the means for a slimmed down state to divide, exclude and enforce - as appears to be this Government’s vision.

That is why in March, as shadow cabinet office minister for digital government, I asked an independent expert advisory board to conduct a review of digital government to set out clear goals for a digital agenda that will improve services and empower citizens whilst being efficient and cost effective

All too often government is something done to the people. A Labour Digital government must not be like that.

The Digital Government Review took as its basis that there is a need for better integrated services which reflect the needs and capabilities of citizens and their communities.

The report, published today, makes 35 recommendations to make digital government work for everyone.

Labour will need to take the time to study the report in detail as we continue our zero based review process and prepare our manifesto. But an initial reading makes clear that this is a comprehensive roadmap for transforming the relationship between government and citizens.

Thanks to the wide ranging expertise of our independent panel combined with over 2000 submissions and responses, it is an important, authoritative, radical and evidence based contribution to the future of progressive public service as well as a stand-alone reference work for the current status of digital government.

The report leads on  the primary importance of  digital inclusion, in contrast to this Government’s attitude of  "get online or lose out". The Government Digital Service (GDS) is a hugely experienced and talented group within the Cabinet Office but Ministers have focussed on headline grabbing areas that can only be used by 80 per cent of the population, rather than building more valuable services that can be used by everyone and that help with some of this country’s biggest challenges such as economic growth, planning, housing or health and social care. Using social value – as well as cost-savings – as the criteria for choosing what services to take digital would help here.

The report is especially severe on  this Government’s chaotic approach to data sharing, as demonstrated by the care.data and HMRC debacles, and recommends Labour establish a review of data in Government. In his Hugo Young lecture in March Ed Miliband said that the presumption should be that everybody should own their own public sector data. Labour will build on that with a review that will establish a coherent and ethical approach to the use of data within government.

The report also makes important recommendations on public sector skills and leadership. The digital revolution cannot be confined to certain departments in Whitehall. In the future all government will be digital and public servants in local and national government need to understand and be inspired by the prospect of using digital to improve all our lives, working with people, as well as for people. The report argues strongly for increased collaboration and reuse between  local authorities, through local ‘digital factories’ with support from central government.

It’s not a simple matter to address. There are issues of culture, of leadership, of accountability, of collaboration and of building architectures based on open standards.

On Thursday, Jon Cruddas will be speaking at the Institute for Government on our broader vision for building a digital state for innovation and democracy, a digital revolution for people’s power

The next Labour government will be the most digital government ever and the prize of digital government that works for everyone glitters before us. Right now though, most people are experiencing what I call digital discomfort—the sense that Government knows who we are calling, Amazon is telling us what we should be buying, our children and friends are being harassed online, Google is recording our every move and we are all reeling under the onslaught of spam and email scams.

To address these concerns and capture the prize of digital government we need a new kind of government devolving power and responsibility and sharing power with people. By giving people skills, control and information Labour will put the people in control of increasingly digital public services. This report sets out how we can do this. Only a radical Labour administration in 2015 can bring about a progressive digital government which delivers for the citizen.

Chi Onwurah is Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and shadow Cabinet Office minister

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy. 

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era