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. 

Photo: Getty
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UnHerd's rejection of the new isn't as groundbreaking as it seems to think

Tim Montgomerie's new venture has some promise, but it's trying to solve an old problem.

Information overload is oft-cited as one of the main drawbacks of the modern age. There is simply too much to take in, especially when it comes to news. Hourly radio bulletins, rolling news channels and the constant stream of updates available from the internet – there is just more than any one person can consume. 

Luckily Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and former Times comment editor, is here to help. Montgomerie is launching UnHerd, a new media venture that promises to pull back and focus on "the important things rather than the latest things". 

According to Montgomerie the site has a "package of investment", at least some of which comes from Paul Marshall. He is co-founder of one of Europe's largest hedge funds, Marshall Wace, formerly a longstanding Lib Dem, and also one of the main backers and chair of Ark Schools, an academy chain. The money behind the project is on display in UnHerd's swish (if slightly overwhelming) site, Google ads promoting the homepage, and article commissions worth up to $5,000. The selection of articles at launch includes an entertaining piece by Lionel Shriver on being a "news-aholic", though currently most of the bylines belong to Montgomerie himself. 

Guidelines for contributors, also meant to reflect the site's "values", contain some sensible advice. This includes breaking down ideas into bullet points, thinking about who is likely to read and promote articles, and footnoting facts. 

The guidelines also suggest focusing on what people will "still want to read in six, 12 or 24 months" and that will "be of interest to someone in Cincinnati or Perth as well as Vancouver or St Petersburg and Cape Town and Edinburgh" – though it's not quite clear how one of Montgomerie's early contributions, a defence of George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard, quite fits that global criteria. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the full page comment piece Montgomerie got in Osborne's paper to bemoan the deficiencies of modern media on the day UnHerd launched. 

UnHerd's mascot  – a cow – has also created some confusion, compounded by another line in the writing tips describing it as "a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". At least Montgomerie only picked the second-most famous poster animal for herding behaviour. It could have been a sheep. In any case, the line has since disappeared from the post – suggesting the zoological inadequacy of the metaphor may have been recognised. 

There is one way in which UnHerd perfectly embodies its stated aim of avoiding the new – the idea that we need to address the frenetic nature of modern news has been around for years.

"Slow news" – a more considered approach to what's going on in the world that takes in the bigger picture – has been talked about since at least the beginning of this decade.

In fact, it's been around so long that it has become positively mainstream. That pusher of rolling coverage the BBC has been talking about using slow news to counteract fake news, and Montgomerie's old employers, the Times decided last year to move to publishing digital editions at set points during the day, rather than constantly updating as stories break. Even the Guardian – which has most enthusiastically embraced the crack-cocaine of rolling web coverage, the live blog – also publishes regular long reads taking a deep dive into a weighty subject. 

UnHerd may well find an audience particularly attuned to its approach and values. It intends to introduce paid services – an especially good idea given the perverse incentives to chase traffic that come with relying on digital advertising. The ethos it is pitching may well help persuade people to pay, and I don't doubt Montgomerie will be able to find good writers who will deal with big ideas in interesting ways. 

But the idea UnHerd is offering a groundbreaking solution to information overload is faintly ludicrous. There are plenty of ways for people to disengage from the news cycle – and plenty of sources of information and good writing that allow people to do it while staying informed. It's just that given so many opportunities to stay up to date with what has just happened, few people decide they would rather not know.