The government has rehashed a series of measures already outlined in its Transformational Government strategy and last year’s Varney review into a new “Service Transformation Agreement”, published alongside the Chancellor’s pre-budget report.
The announcement, which follows chancellor Alistair Darling’s speech to the Commons and his publication of the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review, sees an encore for previously announced headline policies – including a rationalisation of the number of government websites, increased contact centre efficiency and ensuring members of the public can report events such as bereavement just once to inform a range of agencies.
Varney’s December 2006 report, Service Transformation – which emphasised the role of IT in improving public services – was produced for Gordon Brown before his switch from chancellor to prime minister.
It followed the Cabinet Office’s publication of the Transformational Government programme, aimed at boosting public service delivery and increasing efficiency through technology, with a heavy emphasis on shared services. Varney was appointed as the prime minister’s adviser on service transformation in July.
Service Transformation Agreement – the key commitments
• piloting a new ‘Tell Us Once’ service that enables citizens to inform public services just once about changes of circumstances, starting with bereavement.
• rationalising the plethora of government websites by closing down the majority and moving their citizen and business content to the government’s two single access websites, Directgov and Businesslink.gov.uk, thereby giving customers access to the information and services they need with greater speed and ease.
• requiring all publicly funded call-centres to undergo formal published accreditation to ensure faster and better services for citizens and businesses.
• reducing avoidable or duplicated contacts with call centres and local offices.
• empowering individuals to influence their services, with greater opportunities and direct involvement to influence the way they are designed and delivered.
• improving management of information and identity across the government’s delivery systems to reduce wasted time and inconvenience for citizens, businesses and frontline workers.
A document setting out the new Service Transformation Agreement includes a series of departmental transformation plans. These cover a range of areas such as contact centre service, online access, mobile access, identity management and data sharing – in contrast with the follow-up sector plans published with January’s delayed annual report on the Transformational Government strategy, which focused on plans for shared services.
The sector plans published in January revealed that the timetable for implementing the shared services proposals had slipped back by five years. But the annual report was accompanied by news that the government had identified 551 websites to be axed in its drive to consolidate its online presence on the Directgov and BusinessLink websites.
Today’s announcement could signal a renewed government focus on the transformation agenda, despite the recycled nature of many targets. It will now be overseen at a political level by minister for the Cabinet Office Ed Miliband and chief secretary to the Treasury Andy Burnham. The pair will "hold departments to account for delivery of these commitments as part of the overall performance management framework, and will continue to identify new opportunities for transforming services," the Service Transformation Agreement says.
The agreement also commits government departments to implement their plans for transforming services across all delivery channels and co-ordinating their work with other departments where relevant.
Elsewhere in the comprehensive spending review announcement, the government pledged new cuts in spending on administration in public services. Departmental admin budgets had been frozen in real terms in the 2004 spending review, but the government will now require 5% annual real reductions, to release over £1.2bn savings by 2010 to 2011 – a requirement that will increase the drive towards shared and automated services.