It was written with help and advice from Simon Cook, David Durant, Carl Haggerty and Paul MacKay, however it doesn't necessarily represent their views. A huge thanks to them for their input.
Dear Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy,
I’m responding to your recent request for thoughts on the UK Digital Strategy. Whilst this response relates mostly to how local public services are delivered, the outcomes may have much wider benefits.
The Government Digital Service (GDS) have achieved some amazing things and the funding announced in the recent Spending Review will allow them to do more of their great work, transforming government departments and services. Local government was not so fortunate.
Poor service harms the reputation of all that might be associated with it, so when someone has a bad experience paying their council tax or reporting a broken streetlight online, they might think twice about renewing their passport or taxing their vehicle through GOV.UK.
From using a public car park, a library, a leisure centre or one of the other hundreds of services offered by councils, this is the tier of government most people have some sort of interaction with on a regular basis, so it figures that it has the greatest influence over the reputation of government in the UK.
I’m part of LocalGov Digital, a network for digital practitioners working in councils. We’ve done some great things over the past three years like creating a standard for writing digital content, running an unmentoring scheme, running the UK’s leading local government unconference, introducing an online platform to aid council collaboration, and running a workshops to help redesign local democracy to name but a few.
There is however no core funding for coordination and much of our work is done on a voluntary basis in addition to our day jobs. You can find out more at http://localgovdigital.info
To build on the work LocalGov Digital and others have done I would like to suggest two things happen:
The creation of a new body to co-ordinate and improve local digital services.
It wouldn’t take a great deal of resource. It really just needs a few people to start to join things up between councils, central government, and everyone else looking to improve the digital services the public sector offers. Benefits include:
- A reduction in the duplication of work across councils and government
- Better knowledge transfer between councils, including standards for data and services.
- A sharing of skills between councils
- A bigger role for local communities to help influence the creation of digital services
The outcome would be better, cheaper digital services. There is currently no network or organisation able to deliver this at scale, or it would already be happening.
Extend GDS’ remit to work formally with local government
LocalGov Digital is already working with GDS and we’re running a workshop in February to see how the successful Digital by Default Standard might work in councils. Things like this are few and far between though.
I’m proposing extending both GDS’ expertise and platform to local government, allowing them to work with councils.
For example allowing councils to use the payment platform GDS are developing would undoubtedly save the taxpayer millions of pounds a year whilst providing the public with a better service, and that’s just one small element of GDS’ work.
Another example is the sharing of data through registers, which would reduce duplication, not only between councils but central and local government too.
GDS work in the open, and some councils already use the resources they have online such as the Government Service Design Manual, however extending GDS' remit to local public services would provide hands-on expertise in delivering world class digital services locally. This could be co-ordinated by the new body, and so GDS didn’t have to visit all 400+ councils regional networks or hubs might be created.
So how does this fit in with the bigger picture of a UK Digital Strategy? The millions saved can be re-invested in local communities which could be used to aid digital literacy or access to digital services. As more services in the public and private sectors move online, digital exclusion will become a growing problem. This funding could help fix that.
Whilst now companies sell to local authorities who then offer digital services to their residents, collaboration and the use of common standards in local government opens up the possibilities for new markets, with companies selling their digital products based on government as a platform direct to residents. There’s the potential for creating a huge new marketplace for local digital services here.
There’s also huge potential in local authorities participating in the sharing economy, with councils becoming not a supplier or a commissioner of services, but a facilitator, connecting local people to help them help each other. Add to this the approach of councils who are using digital to better share their own assets.
So that’s it, two simple things, a new body and the extension of GDS’ remit to work with that body and local authorities to create not only better public services, but greater community cohesion, better use of public assets and new marketplaces for digital innovation.