Value in local government digital services should be driven by G-Cloud, PSN and suppliers

When head of Rotherham Council ICT Richard Copley recently called for a Local Government Digital Service, I immediately thought “that’s an ambitious idea and welcome thinking”.

We should always be open to bold new approaches that challenge the status quo and are driven by a genuine desire to deliver a better and more cost effective service for the public. After all, the central Government Digital Service (GDS) was such an idea and look how award-winningly successful that has been.

However, I’m also mindful of Mike Bracken’s comment at a 2013 SOCITM conference that "it was the devil's own job to get 24 departments to agree to adopt Gov.uk". As Richard Copley himself admits, it would be a serious challenge to scale that task up to 326 councils/local authorities and their digital departments spread right across the country.

So could there be a more pragmatic way forward? One that aspires towards Richard Copley’s ambitions, yet also builds on progress that is already being made in other areas?

To my mind, one of the first things we should agree on as a sector (and by that I mean both government departments and their suppliers) is to focus on using G-Cloud to create more consistency in digital services.

At the moment there is plenty of evidence out there that the vast majority of local authorities either don’t buy from or even understand G-Cloud yet.

That needs to change, and there should be a big focus on education at a regional level to make it happen. When it does, why would it not be possible to leverage the pioneering work undertaken by GDS for central government, take them up on their offer to “share code, standards, APIs and frameworks” and create a set of local government digital services standards on G-Cloud?

The onus would then be on competing suppliers – not the councils – to adhere to those standards and sell services that provide a consistent experience and deliver the excellence that we’re all looking for.

This bypasses the challenges of trying to create a single platform/service that everyone needs to agree on. In theory you could have 326 suppliers to 326 organisations, but would that really matter? In fact, in the true spirit that G-Cloud aims to foster, the competition would be a good thing. Like I say, the onus would be on competing suppliers to deliver.

The other existing asset we should build on is PSN (Public Services Network).  In a couple of months the GSi Convergence Framework will be finally laid to rest and PSN will come to the fore for local government as much as the early adopters in central government (in fact, I recently saw Cabinet Office figures that suggested that local government spending on PSN will inevitably outstrip that spent by central government over the next couple of years). 

This is another opportunity for more consistency across local government services. As the government states on Gov.uk,  PSN “provides an assured network over which government can safely share services, including many G-Cloud services, to collaborate in new ways, more effectively and efficiently than ever before.”

In my opinion, PSN is a great opportunity to deliver consistent G-Cloud services that are created as described above – both for local government, but also for blue light services, healthcare and other local service providers.

So my question is: do we really need to reinvent the wheel, or should we really rather be looking to make the most of the fantastic opportunities we already have?  Your thoughts, as ever, are welcome.

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