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Councils should create a digital service standard, says Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock

Releasing a draft local government digital service standard, Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock advised councils to embrace digital technology

Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock urged local authorities to follow in the footsteps of central government and the Government Digital Service (GDS) and adopt a digital service standard across all councils.

While central government uses the GDS’s Digital By Default Service Standard to improve the quality of digital services, this has not stretched to local government.

Following a workshop for local councils at GDS earlier this month, LocalGov Digital has now published a draft local government digital service standard.

Although local government falls outside GDS’s remit, Hancock urged councils to adopt the standard, saying it would improve the way citizens interact with local authorities.

“Digital services are transforming the way we deliver services and interact with citizens,” he said.

“Local government is often at the forefront of these interactions, so it is important the councils continue to embrace digital – the Government Digital Service will continue to work together with councils to create better local services for people across the UK.” 

The draft standard, published by LocalGov Digital, is based on central government’s 18-point "digital by default" standard.

In a blog post, Phil Rumens, digital services manager at West Berkshire Council, said creating a standard for use across local government with more than 400 councils was an enormous task.

He said there needed to be a standard for councils, because some of the points weren’t applicable to local government.

“For example, councils don't have ministers, so 'test the service from beginning to end with the minister responsible for it' doesn't work in that form,” he said.

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Simple, intuitive services

“There's also nothing about the re-use of authoritative data or registers in the digital by default service standard. This is something that will become increasingly relevant in the coming year and hopefully another area where local and central government can work together.”

The standard includes points such as understanding user needs, creating agile services, using open standards and common government platforms, and having a contingency plan in place should the service go offline.

It also said that councils should create services “that are simple and intuitive enough that users succeed the first time” and encourage the use of digital services.

In early 2015, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude promised to extend the GDS's remit to cover local authorities. However, the government never followed up on this and, earlier this year, GDS chief executive Stephen Foreshew-Cain confirmed that local government was not part of GDS’s responsibility.

During the 2016 spending review, Socitm, the professional association for public sector IT, said it was disappointed the investment in digital transformation was so heavily focused on central government and ignored the “pressing need to join up public services locally”.

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