The UK’s digital strategy should be the wholesale elimination of administrative burden

25 June 2020

The UK government’s aim to use digital to grow the economy as we learn to live with COVID-19 is probably the right one. But will policymakers go looking in the right place for growth?

The old policy framings of regulation vs deregulation, central vs local, public vs private are increasingly invalid. A focus on ‘more digital’, or ‘more data sharing’ could mean a growth agenda fails on its own terms.

The real opportunity of digital is in the reduction in administrative burden across every part of society. The automation of the mundane everywhere. The move from transactional to real-time. And doing this in a way that maintains public trust by aligning how data and technology are used with our democratic values.

This is not a question of removing ‘red tape’ (‘red tape’ is not a problem if it is handled by machines!). And it’s not just about business. It’s about health, welfare, education too. It’s about making everything from buying a house, to applying for benefits or understanding changes to the built environment, something that ‘just happens’ while happening safely.

The elimination of administrative burden will require policymakers to think beyond tweaks to existing activities in the digital economy. They will need to focus on fixing the plumbing of the UK’s data infrastructure, public and private. It will mean breaking the silos of government so that joined-up services can be delivered in the civil servants, private companies and charities. This needs to be done in a systematic way.

The UK should aim to emerge from COVID in the years to come as a truly digital country. The route to that (and growth) is the ruthless removal of administrative burden.