Public Services > Central Government

GDS targets open source route to support councils' digital plans

Neil Merrett Published 09 May 2016

Minister argues GaaP approach can aid local authorities with service transformation, but stakeholders call for funding and ID assurance clarity


Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock has said the government is increasingly working with local authorities around delivering transformative online services, pointing to the "open source" approach in developing its common platforms.

Delivering the 2015 budget ahead of last year's General Election, George Osborne set out plans for the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to collaborate with councils on more ambitious use of digital technology.

The plans, unveiled as a means of driving £10bn in wider savings, were to be part of wider local government work to develop more customer-focused, digitally-enabled and efficient council services.

However, successive budgets following the announcement have failed to include any more specific details on the scope of this local digital commitment or how funding may be spent.

Speaking in London today, Hancock argued that the role of the Government Digital Service (GDS) was to drive digitalisation across Whitehall specifically, although it was hoped to deliver common platforms that would benefit public services locally.

"The range of local authorities' capability in digital government is broad. The best local authorities frankly are better than central government at digital delivery. But there is lots more [councils] that have work to do," he said.

"We're engaging and we are also developing the technology that GDS works on in an open source way in order for it to be reusable by local authorities. The thing about Government as a Platform (GaaP) as an approach is that the platforms we are building like Verify, Pay and also the tracking platforms are developed in a way that's reusable by local authorities."

The minister's comment follow a briefing by Socitm that played up the potential of GDS' GaaP strategy to support ambitions for more interoperable digital services in local government.

In the document, the Local Digital Coalition that includes Socitm, council chief executives organisation SOLACE, as well as LocalGovDigital and iNetwork, looked at the challenges and opportunities in using central government designed common tools.

The public sector IT managers group argued that clarity was still needed in a number of areas, for example, who may pay for the adoption and ongoing use of common platforms such as GOV.UK Verify, Notify and Pay.

"Government departments currently do not have to pay for GOV.UK Notify usage that falls within a pre-determined allowance, since this avoids the bureaucratic costs of cross-charging and also encourages take up," said the briefing document.

"Local government and third sector organisations need to be clear about whether they would get a GDS-subsidised usage allowance too, were they to take up the platform services."

Socitm also raised concerns in the briefing about a number of other issues that would need to be addressed for viable take up at local authority level - particularly concerning ID assurance and the GOV.UK Verify platform.

The briefing noted that children and elderly users may find difficulty in being able to authenticate themselves under the current GOV.UK Verify arrangements.

Additional concern was also raised that should the NHS choose to deliver its own ID provider solution based around the NHS number, how could it sit alongside GOV.UK Verify.

Similarly, local authority citizen account registers and Scotland's account services were also seen as having roles within an increasingly competitive identity provider marketplace.

Martin Ferguson, Socitm's director of policy and research, said,"From a central-local public service perspective, successful channel shift to online is crucial to achieving savings required by the austerity programme, as well as bringing the full spectrum of public services into the modern digital age.

"Reusability of well-designed, fit-for-purpose service platforms is critical to realising this vision on a big scale. Socitm anticipates that the Local Digital Coalition will play a key role in helping this vision become reality."

Related articles:

Local Digital Coalition gets Camden backing

Scotland mulls expanding devolved ID assurance solution

Budget 2015: local government reform among key digital aims

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