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Taking digital transformation of the Houses of Parliament to the next level

The Parliamentary Digital Service and its then CIO Tracey Jessup, now chief digital and information officer at UK Parliament, were behind the 'hybrid parliament' which has helped digitise democracy during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Parliamentary Digital Service CIO and managing director, Tracey Jessup, took up a new post as UK Parliament chief digital and information officer on 1 October 2020 after three years leading PDS.

Jessup’s team at PDS have been preparing the Houses of Parliament for the next phase of its digital transformation, and in 2020 delivered programmes digitising parliamentary procedure to enable MPs in the House of Commons and Peers in the House of Lords to continue to scrutinise government, debate and vote remotely during restrictions brought about by Covid-19.

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament and ‘Big Ben’ in London. (Photo by Richie Chan / Shutterstock)

UK Parliament and the PDS is recognised in Tech Monitor‘s inaugural Technology Leaders Index for the speed and successful delivery of programmes to enable a ‘hybrid parliament’ following a request from the Speaker of the House.

“It really demonstrated the power of what digital can do,” Jessup said at New Statesman Media Group‘s CIO Town Hall Live event as she discussed the process of helping digitise democracy.

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“We’ve had amazing feedback from members in both houses; from those who love technology to those who perhaps don’t or have struggled in the past, but who really appreciated the lengths we’ve gone to get them up and running.”

Jessup explained the initiatives her team delivered had created an increased demand for the digital agenda at an important juncture in the institution’s history as it enters a large restoration and renewal programme.

“Houses of Parliament Restoration & Renewal is a huge building programme, and a big challenge from that perspective,” she said. “There’s huge potential in terms of the internet of things. But buildings these days are digital; they are living buildings and digital techniques will also be hugely important to the way in which that restoration is undertaken.

“It really should be and it needs to be a seamless coming together of our construction and digital colleagues in order to ensure that we’re making the most of this once-in-a-generation opportunity – to not only restore but also enhance the facilities that the palace can offer.”

The Parliamentary Digital Service is also a diversity leader and has been successful in making sure it has been able to recruit and retain the best and most diverse talent to reflect the citizens it serves. Having previously reported a negative gender pay gap in 2018, in spring 2020 the PDS reported a 2019 mean gender pay gap of 0.7% and a median pay gap of 0%.

Jessup added though that while the organisation had made strides, its ethnicity pay gap showed that “we need to do more to tackle the inequality experienced by BAME colleagues; the data shows where we need to take action and better understand how people can be disadvantaged in more than one way”.

Edward Qualtrough

Special projects editor

Edward Qualtrough is special projects editor for Tech Monitor.