21/12/2012 08:03 GMT | Updated 20/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Digital Strategies for Winning the Global Race

As the world has changed so must the civil service. It's now possible to communicate instantaneously with friends around the world, to buy Christmas presents online, or to follow breaking news on Twitter. Inevitably the public expects that when they interact with the state they can enjoy the same speed and efficiency of services that they find in the private sector.

Government faces the dual challenge of rising public expectations coupled with the need to make spending cuts to deal with the deficit we inherited. That's why we put our aspiration of making government digital by default at the heart of our plans to reform the civil service. And today, government departments are unveiling plans to deliver a first wave of digital public services that are really fit for the 21st century.

The future of government is digital. And if we're to get ahead in the global race, we must equip ourselves to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The prize is enormous: simply by making everyday transactions digital, we can save up to £1.2 billion by 2015, and an estimated £1.7 billion a year beyond 2015 an estimated £1.7 billion a year beyond 2015. We will have services that are faster, easier to use and delivered more cost-effectively.

Digital isn't just quicker and more convenient: it's much cheaper for both government and the consumer. For some services, the average cost of a digital transaction is almost 20 times lower than by phone, about 30 times lower than by post, and about 50 times lower than face-to-face.

Smarter digital government services support public sector transparency and accountability, and facilitate economic and social growth. They will enable the creation of innovative, new businesses. But above all this digital revolution is the vehicle for a new generation of public services designed explicitly around the needs of the consumer.

Government handles over a billion different transactions every single year through 650 different services - from paying car tax, to booking driving tests, completing tax returns, or applying for the state pension. For many of these transactions, digital options have yet to be designed. Where digital options do exist, they are often underused and need redesigning from scratch.

In their strategies, the seven departments responsible for nine out of 10 government transactions - HM Revenue & Customs, the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, and the Departments for Transport; Work and Pensions; Business, Innovation and Skills; and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - have each identified services to make up the first wave for digitisation. This wave of new services will come online by March 2015 at the latest.

We will introduce an entirely online tax self-assessment system, alongside an online tax service for businesses to match those available from internet banking. In the year that volunteering received the recognition it deserves, to make it easier for people to volunteer we will digitise criminal record checks; and we will support business by introducing an online service to manage intellectual property rights. Our new online resource will allow candidates for National Apprenticeships more easily to search for vacancies, and enable employers to advertise vacancies and identify suitable candidates.

Online services will benefit the vast majority. We intend to make them so good everyone will want to use them. But we won't leave anyone behind. That's why our strategy is 'digital by default', not '100% digital'. In our 'Approach to Assisted Digital', also published today, we commit to providing other ways to access services for those who really need them.

This is another step towards providing the public with the services they deserve. In a sense, this a race without a finishing line. But we want to see an exceptional civil service delivering the best for Britain, and we are determined to forge ahead.