Wales needs a Chief Digital Officer and a Minister for Digital with authority right across the public services, a Digital Strategy that ensures problems are addressed from the point of view of the member of the public who will be using the service, and a team of specialist digital ‘squads’ that can be called upon to help organisations develop workable solutions.

Those are the main recommendations of an expert panel that has today delivered its report to the Welsh Government.

Led by Labour backbencher, Llanelli AM Lee Waters, the panel includes Monmouthshire Council Chief Executive Paul Mathews, and the current Chief Digital Officer of Homes England, Dominic Campbell, amongst a very well regarded group of digital and public service experts. The panel was established at the end of October by Welsh Government Ministers Julie James (Leader of the House and Chief Whip), Vaughan Gething (Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services) and Alun Davies (Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services).

“At the moment there a gap at the top – very few of the leaders of our health boards, local authorities and senior civil service can be said to be confident digital leaders. In fact, most don’t feel embarrassed to admit they don’t really understand it. They will often talk about Digital as an off-shoot of IT. It’s not the same thing, technology is one of the ways digital change is implemented, the key bit about digital is designing services that work for people” panel Chair Lee Waters said.

“We need to use digital to enable us to ask for what we actually want, rather than how to put up with what systems we are given. This is a big change agenda. It will require real leadership and team working to get it to work. But if we don’t there’s a real risk that our public services get left behind” he added.

The panel makes six recommendations to the Government:

  • Design public services around the needs of the user
  • Establish clear digital leadership in Wales
  • Develop and introduce digital service standards
  • Identify skills and capability gaps and develop a plan to close them
  • Create an approach to incentivisation and spend controls
  • Agree a clear and ambitious timetable for change demonstrating pace and scale

Lee Waters said:

“A series of reports over the last three years have set out a consistent picture of Welsh public services failing to capture the potential of digital approaches to improve outcomes.

Whilst some Councils have introduced things like putting its parking services online, and text reminders of bin collections, many are way behind. In the same way some parts of the NHS are innovating, in Morriston hospital for example the kidney dialysis service allows patients to make decisions about their treatments by giving them digital access to their information through their smartphone or computer. Other parts of the NHS are still in the pre-digital age – hospital appointment letters are still routinely posted, and it’s not possible to access services online.

The danger is that citizens expectations are being transformed by online services from Netflix and Youtube, to Amazon and Paypal. If health, local government and other services fail to keep up with these changing demands, it could seriously undermine support for the values of public services in the future”.

The report calls on the new Welsh Government to take three immediate actions:

  • Appoint a Minister with lead responsibility for Digital
  • Agree a digital declaration committing to new ways of working across Welsh public services
  • Create a CDO for Wales within six months

The report is available here and in accessible format here.