Why stop at council websites?

I’m beginning to like the cut of this government Minster’s jib, when it comes to how local government should be preparing for the future.  His suggestion that councils should share the resources used to produce their internet presence makes total sense, but should not be limited to just websites.

All councils do a range of activities and deliver a range of services that are virtually identical.  No matter how many times you hear councils claim to be different, or even unique – which is of course is true geographically – people are people and what they require from their local council, tends to be very much the same.  So why do the four hundred plus councils across the UK continue to insist on purchasing something as expensive as software, using an individual, or in some cases, bespoke approach?

Historically, councils didn’t tend to need to talk to each other and were very inward looking and protective of their way of doing things.  Part of this was of course was an element of self-preservation.  As we have now seen in many councils in recent years, sharing resources, including staff, leads to efficiencies, which in turn leads to a need for fewer specialist staff.

The one place local government seems to be slow to make progress, is when it comes to sharing software systems.  I’ve little doubt that this will be due, in part, to the software companies making life difficult when it comes to a genuine shared procurement arrangement between councils.  However, it’s also likely that both central and local government play a significant part in not seeking combined software solutions, when a new duty, or service is introduced, because they think there’s bound to be a need to do something different in their area from every other council in the country.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online

Minister proposes ‘open source’ solution for council websites
23 October, 2015 | By Sarah Calkin

Local authorities should not be spending money developing their own individual web portals when a single system could be developed and shared across councils, a government minister has said.

Speaking at a conference on public service reform on Wednesday, cabinet office minister Matt Hancock praised the Government Digital Service and its approach of developing platforms which could be shared across government for free.

The service developed the gov.uk platform now used for all Whitehall department websites.

Mr Hancock said GDS was now developing “core digital infrastructure for common activities like making and receiving payments, or tracking the status of an application” which would allow the public to deal with government “through one simple interface”.

Asked whether councils would be able to use the product he said: “The product should be available to local government… We are looking at what we can do to ensure that specific requirements of local government, as opposed to the source code more broadly, are available, that’s part of the spending review.”

Many local authorities are currently developing their own individual web portals, working with companies such as Agilisys and Civica, allowing residents to access services on line and conduct secure transactions, such as paying council tax.

Asked by LGC whether they should wait for an ‘off the shelf’ government product, Mr Hancock said he would “hate to see every council spending the development money to develop their own portal”.

“One portal written in open source software could be used by lots and lots of different councils and joined up that way,” he said.

Trevor Holden, chief executive of Luton BC, advocated a centralised approach at a recent Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers event.

He told LGC he welcomed the minister’s comments and called for a single piece of research and development work to develop the software, coordinated by central government or the Local Government Association.

“The vision has to be buy it once and buy well,” he said. “There should be a single portal it should be local and central government in the first instance but with an aspiration for the whole public sector so [for example] it knows who your GP is as well and you could book appointments through the system.”

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