By Steven McGinty
Today, the Society of Information Technology Management (SOCITM) are having their 28th annual Spring Conference. The event provides business and technology leaders from across the public sector with the opportunity to discuss the future of government digital services.
A key issue up for debate is the development of ‘local public services as a platform’. This is based on the idea of ‘government as a platform’, a UK government policy which aims to provide:
“a common core infrastructure of shared digital systems, technology and processes on which it’s easy to build brilliant, user-centric government services”
The most high profile example of government as a platform is the use of a single website to provide digital services, known as GOV.UK. This was introduced by Government Digital Service (GDS), the organisation responsible for the digital transformation of central government services. It’s believed that the use of GOV.UK has led to more than £60m in savings, simply from replacing the DirectGov and Business Link websites.
How could local public services as a platform work?
To date, there have been two main approaches put forward. The first, proposed by Richard Copley, head of information and communications technologies (ICT) at Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, involves the creation of a Local Government Digital Service (LDGS). This would oversee the development of a single website for local government services, removing the need for individual council websites. It’s argued that this would only cost each council £3,000 per year, allowing local councils to make substantial savings.
However, Socitm have rejected the idea of a single website for local services. They argue that a single website:
‘..ignores the independence of local authorities as organisations that have different democratic mandates and priorities… local government is exactly that. Local requirements, whether of geography, size, demographics or politics, must continue to drive council websites.’
Instead, Socitm suggests the use of a common platform for sharing local government tools and applications. This would mean that local government could promote and share examples of best practice. However, they do acknowledge that incentives would need to be introduced to encourage this.
Is there political support for extending government as a platform into local government?
There was certainly intent by the Conservative government to have this happen. Ed Vaisey, UK minister for culture and the digital economy, is an advocate of Richard Copley’s view of a ‘local government digital service’ (LGDS). He explains that having local government on one website is an ‘ambition’ and emphasises that it has the potential to save billions of pounds by providing a gateway, similar to GOV.UK, for local government services.
Similarly, George Osborne made the increased use of digital services a major theme of the last Budget. For example, the Chancellor has expanded the remit of the Government Digital Service (GDS), to include collaborating with local councils to develop ‘customer-focussed, digitally-enabled, efficient local services’.
Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Chi Onwurah has also been involved in the debate. Last year, she was keen to see the GDS support the work of local councils, which indicates that there may be some agreement with the Conservative Party. Recently, she expanded on her view, explaining that if the GDS were to work with local councils, they should focus on major areas such as social care and benefits.
At the moment, the future of local government services is uncertain. However, it’s important that we continue to debate the issue in order to find solutions that will provide real value for taxpayers, as well as provide better public services.
- Government as a Platform: the next phase of digital transformation (Government Digital Service, 2015)
- Ed Vaizey: Ambition to have local government on one platform (Computer Weekly, 2015)
- About us (Government Digital Service , 2015)
- Budget 2015: GDS remit to extend to local government (Public Technology, 2015)
- Call for councils to form joint web platform (Public Technology, 2015)
- No to single local government website, yes to common platform for local government tools and applications, says Socitm (Socitm, 2015)
- Collaborating and sharing digital assets: towards a local government digital service? (Socitm, 2015)
- Labour digital review rejects Local GDS (Public Technology, 2015)
- UK government outlines “one digital platform” vision for local councils (ITPRO, 2015)