Why some centralising of local gov digital is needed

An ongoing debate this. Ben Proctor has had his say recently, and it feels fairly sensible.

There are two issues at stake here – one is whether some kind of ‘GDS’ for local government is needed; second is whether we need a website for every council.

These two things are not necessarily bound to one another.

My view is that some centralising is vital for the sector, for two main reasons.

First, financial. It’s nuts that there are hundreds of broadly similar, publicly funded organisations out there paying again and again for broadly the same thing. There has to be savings to be made here with a bit of rationalisation.

Second, and most important for me, quality. The standard of digital services in local government is variable to say the least. Lots of people are doing brilliant work. Lots more people, it would appear, are being prevented from doing even competent work by some circumstance or other.

I think the first thing local government needs to do is to admit that there is a problem. The majority of services delivered within the sector do not provide an adequate level of quality user experience.

In other words, the current system isn’t working.

The problem, as many have pointed out, is that making this happen would be hard. Who has the mandate to get this done? How to get around political issues, particularly local pride, and so on? Big national IT projects? Arrrgggggh!

… and so on.

However, none of the arguments are strong enough to make this not worth trying. If we can save the sector millions of pounds a year, then putting a few noses out of joint will probably be worth it.

Key to success for me will be:

  • Ownership by local government. Lots of models have been discussed. I would look strongly at putting a mutual together, owned by the sector, where councils pool money by investing in the mutual. This should provide a mandate as well as scale to get things done
  • Focusing on achieving realistic things. Follow the GDS model of building prototypes and getting stuff out quickly. Don’t build the single local government domain as the first job.
  • Quality above all else. Everything that comes out of the mutual should be of the highest quality, firstly because it should be the minimum standard anyway but also to demonstrate to the sector what can be achieved
  • Share everything openly. Even those who choose not to be a part of the mutual should still be able to make use of its products and services.

I’m sure there are lots of holes in these – admittedly very sketchy – ideas. However, so much could be achieved so quickly if even just a handful of forward thinking local authorities got together and made this happen.