Public Services Delivery: Technology

Oral Answers to Questions — Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons on 6th February 2019.

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Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West

What steps he is taking to encourage the use of innovative technologies to improve the delivery of public services.

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Last month I announced five new public sector challenges, to be funded from the £20 million GovTech innovation fund. In the spring we will publish a strategy for the use of innovation in public services.

Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the GovTech fund is being used to identify technologies with the potential to improve medical care and deliver better services at a lower cost?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I am delighted to confirm that to my hon. Friend. There is huge potential here for improvement in public services. So far the GovTech Catalyst has funded two health-related challenges: the first seeks to improve the medication pathway for people entering custody, and the second will assess how machine learning could improve prediction and provision in relation to adult social care.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Labour/Co-operative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

At the weekend, 70 Labour MPs and Members of the European Parliament signed my letter to the Government asking them to review the operation of the EU settled status app for EU citizens, which is currently available only on Android phones and not on iPhones. What advice does the Cabinet Office gives other Departments to ensure that no digital discrimination is embedded in the new technologies that the Government are rolling out?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the question of the digital verification system. It is perfectly possible to subscribe to it with any phone. The issue relates to the document verification, which can be carried out in respect of Android phones but not, currently, in respect of Apple phones However, the Home Office is working on that as we speak.

Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Conservative, North Cornwall

I know the Minister will be aware that delivering public services in rural areas is particularly challenging. Will he consider how he could use tech and innovation to facilitate better public services in areas such as those that I represent?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the great aspects of the GovTech challenge fund is that it is often used in rural areas. In rural Scotland, for example, we are looking into how it could be used to help to ensure that the environment is properly managed, and we are working on other similar schemes.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces)

Time and again, Mr Speaker, you have heard me raise the issue of deeply unsatisfactory broadband coverage in my constituency, which greatly impairs the delivery of vital public services. Responding to a question that I asked not long ago, the Prime Minister mentioned the shared prosperity fund. Might that fund be used to tackle the problem of very poor broadband coverage? If the Minister cannot give me an answer now, will he agree to meet me to discuss the issue?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I am always happy to meet all Members, and I have heard the hon. Gentleman’s representation in respect of the shared prosperity fund. Our industrial strategy has already committed us to spending more than £1 billion on digital infrastructure, including £176 million on 5G and £200 million on broadband for local areas. There is, I know, an issue with the Scottish National party Government getting the money to the front line, which is why my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary has announced that in future, money will go directly to councils.

Photo of Jo Platt Jo Platt Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

When it comes to the delivery of technology with the use of public money, we know whose side the Government are on: their mates in the megafirms. Their spending on Cloud provision with just one company, Amazon Web Services, has increased by 8,000% since 2015. The next time the Minister signs off another multimillion-pound tech contract, will he perhaps spare a thought for one of the UK’s incredible small and medium-sized enterprises?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

The Government are committed to ensuring that SMEs win their fair share of Government contracts. Unlike the Labour Government, this Government have set the target of devoting a third of all spending to SMEs. However, the hon. Lady rightly raised the issue of Amazon Web Services. Let us look at the figures. AWS is a G-Cloud supplier. A total of £3.2 billion has been spent on G-Cloud. How much has been spent on AWS? Just £70 million, which amounts to less than 2.2% of total spending.