Local government calls for a local GDS

Local government needs a local version of the Government Digital Service (GDS) with dedicated in-house digital teams, says Socitm

Local government needs a local version of the Government Digital Service (GDS) with dedicated in-house digital teams to improve the delivery of local public services online, says Socitm.

The association of IT and digital professionals working in local public services has called for a local GDS (LGDS), saying a dedicated digital team for local government would be more effective at delivering digital transformation than volunteer programmes, such as the LocalGov Digital initiative and subscription-based models like Socitm itself.

But unlike GDS, LGDS would be more of a support system for local government and would not be the only way to develop digital public services. Socitm wants LGDS to consist of a team of advisors who would support local authorities' teams that are implementing digital strategies.

Socitm said it would want digital development to continue to be created and commissioned by local council teams, with LGDS helping to make it happen. LGDS would also help in the joining up of public services, including health, housing, social care, education and transport.

“LGDS might have the capacity to take best practice digital assets and shape and support them in a way that makes them easy to adapt in local authorities. Just a small level of capacity might make a big difference in the pace of improving websites and realising benefits from digital delivery of services,” said Socitm.

But the association has also warned that an LGDS would need input from central government to be a “properly funded” service, in order to create digital transformation in local government.

“It is equally unrealistic to expect a sector where there is a history of patchy implementation of digital – and where funding is extremely tight – to change its approach suddenly, without some sort of financial kick-start. In central government, for example, GDS has been heavily funded to create digital transformation,” said Socitm.

Government Digital Service (GDS)

GDS is 18 months into its transformation project to move 25 of the most used government services online.

The ambitious project began in January 2013, allowing 400 working days to complete the transformation of 25 services – from visa applications to benefits claims. By the end of the 400-day period, the 25 exemplars should be live or in the final stage of public testing. 

The government claims digitising public services will make cumulative savings of £1.2bn in this Parliament, rising to an estimated £1.7bn per year after 2015.

However, almost 60% of employees at GDS could be gone within 12 months of the 2015 general election, posing a huge risk to the next government’s digital plans.

Of 301 employees at GDS, 176 are on fixed-term contracts, all of which are due to terminate within 12 months of a new administration taking power, according to a freedom of information request by Computer Weekly.

If a new government comes into power in May 2015, it could decide not to renew the remaining contracts as they expire. Equally, if those employees don’t agree with new policies set out, they could choose to leave at the end of their contract period.

Labour has since committed to GDS, saying it will build on the work and services it has already produced if the party comes into power. The party also said it will keep GDS staff if they wish to stay.

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