The coalition government is set to miss its target to spend 25 percent of its IT budget with SMEs by 2015, according to a major new report on public sector IT commissioned by the Labour Party.
The report, entitled ‘Making Digital Government Work for Everyone’, is the result of a reviewshadow Cabinet Office minister Chi Onwurah MP (pictured) announced in December 2013. Its findings will contribute to official Labour policy.
While highly critical of some parts of the coalition government, the report recommends a future Labour government builds on, rather than tears up, key initiatives such as Government Digital Services (GDS).
Echoingcalls by the CBI, startup group Coadec,thinktank Policy Exchange and Labourgrassroots group Labour Digital, all of which have said GDS' responsibilities should be beefed up, the report recommended that the remit of GDS be expanded to include local authorities as well as central government.
It claimed that widening GDS’ responsibilities to include the local sector would lead to savings of over £50 million.
It said local government needs to recruit strong leadership and delivery teams to provide the capability needed to deliver digital services.
In Whitehall, the civil service skills framework should be updated to recognise the importance of digital competency and all civil servants should receive five days of training on digital skills, it added.
Other existing government work the report praised include theG-Cloud framework and plans to build reusable online platforms for the public sector.
However, the Labour report said that the government needs to work harder to increase the use of commodity cloud services and “actively research and understand needs outside of central government”.
Socitm president Nick Roberts has argued that G-Cloud uptake is lower in local government as it does not suit the sector.
‘More healthy’ procurement
The report also called for a number ofchanges to procurement, for example allowing the public sector to publish open, online feedback on suppliers.
The review said that the language around big IT contract renegotiations at the start of this parliament‘became extremely heated’. It called for a more ‘healthy approach’ of ensuring the public sector is ‘an informed buyer making good decisions and driving hard bargains’.
As part of this, it says the government should publish an annual procurement strategy and produce guidance for suppliers on how to work together in the supply chain.
It promises to build on existing work to move towards “open standards, a common architecture and a platform for government”.
One idea is for the government to publish its own performance data as open data, for example the average time it takes to process a passport application.
Address data ‘missed opportunity’
However the review includes some scathing criticism of current government initiatives. For example it dubs the sale of open address data via the privatisation of the Royal Mail a “spectacular missed opportunity”, saying the dataset should be rebuilt by 2021.
It also says that the governmentidentity assurance programme, dubbedGOV.UK Verify, is “running significantly behind the initially committed schedule” and may need to be reviewed if it takes office if it is not in a more ‘stable’ position.
A number of users found themselves cut off from the onlineCommon Agricultural Policy service because they were unable to certify their identity using the government identity assurance schemelaunched as a public beta last month.
Labour’s report was written by a team of independent experts, advisors and volunteers, led by telecoms professional Peter Wells.
The group received input from 2,000 individuals plus 80 submissions from organisations or companies.