Local government IT managers’ association Socitm has urged Gordon Brown to pay much closer attention to the role of local government in developing Britain’s digital future.
In response to a speech on 22 March, in which the prime minister insisted that a £30 million web science institute would help secure Britain’s digital future, Socitm said there needed to be a clear focus on “locally delivered information handling and technology deployment”.
Pilots of the Total Place initiative, aimed at improving local services, show that services can be better and cheaper when they are “led, managed and resourced locally”, Socitm said in an official response paper to the speech. It said citizens and front-line staff needed to have an influential role in the nature and setup of those services.
Socitm and other industry bodies are developing a vision for ‘Tomorrow’s Public Services’, in which they propose that the reform, collaboration and innovation on national standards and infrastructure, needed to happen at a local level. This included developments such as the proposed citizen ID authentication and universal superfast broadband.
The prime minister’s speech contained no explicit reference to the delivery of local services, Socitm noted. But it said that concepts including the MyGov portal and a shift away from centrally-imposed directives, “will resonate [positively] with all those involved in local public services delivery”.
Nevertheless, Socitm concluded in its report that it remained unclear if the government would truly step away from heavy centralised influence on local councils: “The jury is out as to whether the government is ready to step up to the plate by dismembering its centralising tendency for control, while shifting power to the citizen, with all that it entails in terms of information use and the kinds of technologies that can be appropriated to the task.”
If the government were not prepared to change or the technology were not in place, it said, “the growing power of the internet to undermine and break patterns of centralist control” would mean citizens would push hard and expect to gain influence.