Solihull Council CIO and Socitm ex-President Steve Halliday has come out in support of the idea of creating a local Government Digital Service (GDS).
The centralised unit would work on standardising back office systems, driving out costs from suppliers and producing open source code for authorities to use to deliver better digital services and replace “expensive commercial software”, he said.
In a blog post on his website, Halliday said “local GDS should have a budget of £7.6 million and a staff of 82 people.”
He reached the figures by calculating 13 percent- the ‘local’ share of public sector expenditure- of GDS’ £58.3 million budget and 635 staff.
Halliday added: “I’m convinced that the culture, methods and passion of GDS make it the right place to host local GDS.”
Lobbying Cabinet Office
Last week Rotherham Council’s IT head Richard Copley called for “anyone and everyone to lobby Cabinet Office/GDS to create a local GDS under the wider GDS umbrella" in a blog post on his website.
Socitm, which represents public sector IT managers, recently said it supports a local GDS as “a team of advisors available to support top teams in local authorities in implementing digital strategies and associated transformational change."
However, Copley said: “We do not need the optional, toothless advisory service proposed by Socitm.”
He claimed a local GDS will only work “if it is supported at the highest level of government, has authority to tell councils what to do, is adequately resourced and does not respect the status quo.”
Copley added: “We need a local GDS to tell (not ask) Councils how to steer a way out of the highly inefficient, complex, fractured and duplicated IT landscape that we find ourselves in.”
‘It’s not fair’
Halliday said Martha Lane Fox’s 2010 report on online government services was “a vision for all public services – not just for central government…Today however, GDS spends virtually all its energies and budget on central government.”
He added: “I feel like an adolescent raging that “it’s not fair”! But quite frankly, it is not fair. Even if you accept that half of what GDS produces can be used across all sectors, there still should be 40 people working for local GDS.
“How could this have happened, that central government digital has become so well invested in, whereas local government has not?”
The concept of a local GDS has been under discussion in local government and digital circles for some years, although momentum for the idea has grown in recent months.
It was included in Policy Exchange's 'Tech Manifesto' report in June and a number of senior IT managers in local government have come out in support of the concept.
Copley has suggested a number of areas of priority for local GDS, including setting open standards, publishing all local government procurement activity over £10,000, setting targets for spending with SMEs, a ‘Cloud First’ policy and aggregation of local government data centres.
In response, the Cabinet Office said: “The Government Digital Service’s core focus is central government. But we have created a platform of ‘digital assets’ available to all the public sector to use.
"We have also been working with Socitm on a few specific projects which have been identified as having the biggest impact for users of both central and local government services.”