'Make government paperless by 2020'

5 September 2013

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6 September 2013 | Will Green

The UK government should become paper-free by 2020, according to a think tank.

Policy Exchange claimed the government could be “8 per cent more effective” – saving £24 billion a year – if it eliminated paper from communications between departments and switched to digital channels for all public services not requiring face-to-face interaction.

The think tank said the Crown Prosecution Service prints one million sheets of paper a day and two articulated lorries of letters and paperwork pull into the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency each day.

Smaller, Better, Faster, Stronger: Remaking government for the digital age said a survey of public sector staff carried out for the report found just a half thought their bosses understood what technology was required for people to do their job well, and a third thought the technology at work was worse than they had at home.

The report said: “By 2020 government must move from digital-by-default to digital, full stop. Moving paper up and down the country is slow and expensive. Government should eliminate paper for interactions within and between departments, and switch exclusively to digital channels for public services that do not need a face-to-face interaction with the public.”

The government should also adopt e-procurement and allow developers to write apps that can communicate with government systems, said the report. But to make the changes government will have to “increase interchange” so more staff have external experience, introduce more fixed-term appointments, enrol the top 10 per cent of staff in an “innovation drive” and allow teams to spin out their activities with tech start-ups and other partners.

The report said: “As is so often the case, the toughest challenges ahead are around people, leadership and organisational change. By 2020 government needs to have developed more outstanding leaders who can drive digital into the DNA of public sector organisations.”

Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “This report recognises considerable progress and remarkable potential. We estimate shifting government transactions to digital channels can save £1.2 billion by 2015. In future all government services will be fast, convenient, agile and digital by default.”

The European Commission has set a deadline for all public sector organisations to carry out procurement electronically by 2016.

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