UK Chief Scientist Calls on UK Gov to Trial Distributed Ledger Tech for Public Services

The UK Government’s Chief Scientist, Sir Mark Walport, has set out how distributed ledger technology could transform the delivery of public services and boost productivity in a major report published this week.

Sir Mark Wallport said:

Distributed ledger technology has the potential to transform the delivery of public and private services. It has the potential to redefine the relationship between government and the citizen in terms of data sharing, transparency and trust and make a leading contribution to the government’s digital transformation plan.

Any new technology creates challenges, but with the right mix of leadership, collaboration and sound governance, distributed ledgers could yield significant benefits for the UK.

Wallport’s report describes how the technology has evolved from its first incarnation launched as the Bitcoin Blockchain in 2008 into a variety of models that can be applied to different business problems and improve the sharing of information.

Wallport notes that distributed ledgers are already being used in the diamond markets and in the disbursing of international aid payments.

The report makes a number of recommendations regarding ministerial leadership, research, standards and the need for proof of concept trials.

The recommendations include:

  • government should provide ministerial leadership to ensure that it provides the vision, leadership and the platform for distributed ledger technology within government; this group should consider governance, privacy, security and standards
  • government should establish trials of distributed ledgers in order to assess the technology’s usability within the public sector
  • government could support the creation of distributed ledger demonstrators for local government that will bring together all the elements necessary to test the technology and its application.
  • the UK research community should invest in the research required to ensure that distributed ledgers are scalable, secure and provide proof of correctness of their contents

In the report, Wallport and his team refer to three case studies of distributed ledger technology application, namely micro-generation energy market and energy contract ledger in the European Union, Estonia’s use of blockchain technology for public services and public key infrastructure, and LHV Pank — the largest
independent Estonian bank — experiment with programmable money.

Wallport’s report also pays special attention to how smart contracts are “the application layer that makes much of the promise of block chain technology a reality”. It notes that smart contracts are being considered for a wide variety of uses, especially regulatory compliance, product traceability and service management, and also to limit counterfeit products and fraud in the following sectors: food, financial services, energy, pharmaceuticals, health, aerospace, aviation ,telecommunications, IT/communications, transport, utilities, agriculture, and oil and gas.

Ed Vaizey, the UK Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, commented on the report:

Government wants to make sure the UK is at the forefront of using emerging technology to improve public services. The UK is well-placed to realise the full potential of this technology, and Sir Mark’s report clearly sets out how we can use these new tools to transform and streamline their delivery.

Matt Hancock, the UK Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General,  expressed his support for the technology:

Sir Mark’s report provides a clear set of recommendations and I am delighted we are leading the way.

Digital transformation is central to our reform of the public sector, helping deliver better services at a much lower cost and improving the relationship between the citizen and the state. With our world-class digital capability and strong research community, the UK is well placed to reap the potential benefits of distributed ledger technology.

Wallport, officially titled the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, directs the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) which has the role of ensuring that government policies and decisions are “informed by the best scientific evidence and strategic long-term thinking.”

The GO-Science published the following video on Youtube to go with the release of the report