How PSN can help rebuild our trust in government

This week’s Public Services Network Summit at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster brought together local authorities and suppliers to reflect and review the progress made in rolling out the Public Services Network (PSN), and explore avenues for further evolution and development.

To coincide with the conference, PSN trade association PSNGB launched a new whitepaper titled PSN: A platform for reform.

Among many interesting points raised in the whitepaper was that of trust in local and central government.

Whether applying for passports or driving licences or sharing health and personal information around departments and local authorities, said the paper, citizens must trust government to safeguard the information they supply it and use it appropriately.

However, it pointed out, trust in UK government is falling, down from 47% last year to 42% at the moment – that’s actually below trust in business – and a third of people don’t trust the government with our personal data.

The whitepaper claimed that PSN can bring about a restoration of trust. Really? How’s that, then?

I asked PSNGB chairman (he prefers emperor) Phil Gibson and BT Global Services’ Neil Mellor (wearing a fetching PSNGB hat) exactly that question.

“PSN is not visible to citizens, but while there is no sticker saying ‘PSN Inside’ if people know that our government is holding and sharing data responsibly, that could help rebuild trust,” suggests Mellor.

So is there a case for being upfront with the general public, educating them about the existence of the PSN, and possible even declaring compliance with some sort of ‘PSN Inside’ kite mark?

Maybe, says Gibson.

“We have that circular logo. I could well envisage a time where you see that logo on the door at your GP’s surgery, for example, and know that they have a process in place for sharing and managing the information that they hold on you.

“”Trust in government is not about loss, it’s about what other departments might do with your data,” argues Gibson, “but instead, everyone remembers the child benefit record loss.”

“There is a point where we can say ‘we have worked on this, we have this highly secure network reaching all parts of the public sector’ and I think that that might well be worth communicating to citizens.”

I envisage such a scheme might work a little bit like the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) hygiene ratings.

The FSA’s inspectors rate restaurant premises on a scale of one to five, and slap a green sticker on the door to give consumers the confidence that the kitchen staff are washing their hands and not putting horse in the steak tartare, for example. Could a star-based PSN data security rating be something the average citizen would find reassuring?

It’s an intriguing suggestion and it may never come to fruition, but I am definitely on board with the idea of being more open about the benefits that government IT should be bringing to our daily lives.