Farewell Rohan Silva...

Downing Street SpAD Rohan Silva is leaving his position - what did he really achieve?

by Charlotte Henry on 6 April 2013 23:48

It was announced this week that cyber SpAD Rohan Silva would be departing 10 Downing Street for the more lucrative pastures of the private sector.

While there is no doubt that Silva has been influential on the digital agenda in the UK, to read some of the coverage you might think that there was some enormous change afoot that was going to combust as soon as Silva signs off.

There should be, but there isn’t.

While some progress has been made, spearheaded by the Government Digital Service, we are still a long way off from digitised, open services and a strong open data culture here in the UK.

Silva might have described the government’s digital policies, as “the most radical thing people have never heard of,” but then he has never been known for understatement. 

Some of the policies implemented on his watch have the potential to be very radical indeed, but there can be little doubt that they are not there yet.

Silva was, not unreasonably, obsessed with the end product of tech – the businesses and their tax receipts. However, too little was done to help make that growth sustainable, not a government inflated bubble.

I heard Silva talk about entrepreneur visas, reducing Whitehall IT spend and Silicon Roundabout, but never about getting pupils coding in schools to make sure we have the engineers to keep those companies running in the future.

Have no doubt either, that Silva is political before he is technological.  At Policy Exchange again he spoke of implementing an ideological open data agenda that the opposition couldn’t row back and “channelling the Hayekian instincts of some parts of the Conservative party.”

With Silva in situ the government has hired top talent such as Mike Bracken and Liam Maxwell, but frankly it as all led to a lot of backslapping.  Yes they are doing excellent things, but they are all very happy to sit on panels congratulating each other on it too.

Britain needs more public data, like opening up government APIs and the Postcode Address File, which would provide the basis for a huge amount of private innovation, but limited progress on this has been made since 2010. 

Ultimately the success of the essential work of digitising British government and public services will depend on start-ups and hackers, not a Special Advisor.

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