Many powers will be bought back to the UK that will have major implications for the size and shape of the public sector and the systems to support the new governance model at national, devolved and local level.
I just want to outline one such example to illustrate the challenge that we all face.
It seems inevitable that some sort of points-based migration system will be introduced. Let’s look at that as an example. A project plan with no contingency might look like this:
In September a new PM is appointed. Instructions are given to write a consultation document on the operation of the points-based system. That goes out at end of November with a closing date of end December. In February 2017 a bill is introduced into parliament to create the legislative framework for its introduction. The budget for 2017-18 will need to be agreed by budget time which is March 2017 on current projections. If the legislation passes by end June, the legal framework is in place.
This type of legislation is unlikely to go through without serious amendments to meet the needs of seasonal agricultural workers and high tech industry and finance having different needs.
While this is going on, the number of people needed to run the department and the specification for any supporting IT will start to be drafted. If this work is completed by September 2017 a shadow team can be put in place and the procurement for such a system can commence. Under which procurement rules is a moot point as we will still be subject to EU status, probably, at that time.
Let’s fast track this procurement to six months, given the urgency and priority of the system. That takes us to March 2018.
Now let’s imagine that the date for leaving the EU is January 2019, which means triggering Article 50 in January 2017.
That gives the winning organisation a very tight timescale to deliver what will be a fairly complex system. Let’s imagine that every target is met and the system is operational by March 2019, then an interim paper-based system may be needed. The staff will have to be recruited and trained. It’s quite likely that the spec. will change during implementation as lobby pressure is put on the points system by various factions.
Now this timetable is so tight that I’m not sure who in their right mind would want to be its project manager. If I add suitable slippage for politics, organisational development and IT implementation and roll-out, I would suggest 2021 is a probable (early) delivery date.
The thing is, this isn’t happening in isolation. DEFRA, BIS, CLG and Health will all be frantically looking at what new teams are needed and what new responsibilities will fall on Whitehall. Now, of course not all need to be implemented to the timescale above.
The future of medical regulation is one that may take years to resolve. Just to give one example, the European Tissue Directive. The regulator in the UK may need to amend UK legislation in time if further EU developments are in a direction that the domestic agenda does not wish to support. The rate of developments in this field are such that it may only take two or three years before new legislative frameworks and powers will be needed.
So, it isn’t just Whitehall, but also the non-departmental bodies may need legislative time, new budgets, new teams and new IT systems.
Add to this new mechanisms for local enterprise partnerships, universities, local government, the devolved parliaments and many others and the parliamentary timetable is likely to be overloaded for a considerable time.
But, the show must go on. The operation of government services is important to industry, the citizen and communities. My own view is that if we do things in the future the way we do things now this is like running Universal Credit, NPfIT/Connecting for Health in Health, and e-borders times ten (at least) for a decade across thousands of bodies of all sizes.
So it strikes me that we really do need to step up to the plate and think of government as a platform, G-cloud and other practises and imagine how we might proceed across the full programme life cycle to make a step change in delivery practise possible.
Regardless of how you voted, business as usual is not remotely achievable for supply and user side of government IT systems.
In the early days of the national programme for health in IT there were questions asked of suppliers as to whether there was sufficient capacity to meet the requirement.
The big areas such as agriculture policy will be challenging enough, but this will impact on regulatory bodies with 100 staff as well as government departments with thousands.
One of the issues around health in the last decade was whether the programme would starve the private sector of too many skills.
Now many private sector organisations will need to change their systems to meet new reporting, tax structures and the like. If the Investigatory Powers Act diverges from the EU privacy shield, however these finally evolve, the governance of IT in evolving trans - European regimes and their interactions with a changing government system need will in itself be a significant challenge.
How could the IT sector contribute to the full life cycle from policy to delivery to drive better outcomes for all of us? Given the Shakespearean dramas unfolding, the ‘small’ matter of the IT plumbing of government will not get airtime. Can we use that time to build a blueprint for a better way of working? I think we need to. There are few times that an industry faces up to a tabula rasa. We may be closer to it than at any time in my working life.
About the author
Chris Yapp is a technology and policy futurologist. Chris has been in the IT industry since 1980. His roles have spanned Honeywell, ICL, HP, Microsoft and Capgemini. He is a Fellow of the BCS and a Fellow of the RSA.