PSN - pragmatism and common sense win the day

Steve Halliday, Socitm presidentFollowing unprecedented collaboration across the public sector, the future of the Public Service Network (PSN) in 2014 looks promising.

A controversial end to 2013 saw issues over compliance and security escalated to the highest levels across local public services, with the resulting row gaining extensive coverage in the trade media. However, since then, a unique Local Government Seniors forum - comprising Socitm, SOLACE, the LGA, the LCIOC and DCLG - has been quietly working with colleagues in Cabinet Office, CESG (GCHQ), DWP, HMRC and others, to find a working solution to ensure that PSN both delivers benefits and enables efficient operations in 2014 and beyond.

The process has been guided by a shared objective: "a pragmatic balance of security and business agility," says Socitm president, Steve Halliday (pictured left). Working with sector stalwarts Dylan Roberts (Leeds) and Jos Creese (Hampshire), Halliday says that both Socitm and the LCIOC's input has been "substantial" and that they are "very pleased with the emerging results".

Adds Halliday, "We are cautiously confident that the 2014-15 PSN experience will be considerably less frustrating than 2013-14 has been. Stephen Kelly's letter sets an excellent tone on which to base this optimism and we are particularly grateful to Stephen for listening and responding in the way he has.

"We look forward to a PSN that works with 'security that is proportionate to the business risk and pragmatic in its implementation'. Socitm will continue to be active in ensuring a PSN that works for local public service and remains grateful to the on-going support of the membership.

Stephen Kelly, COO, Cabinet OfficeWriting to all PSN stakeholders today, PSN's most senior Cabinet Office officer, Stephen Kelly (left), outlined steps to strengthen the leadership of the programme and said that he was grateful "for the engagement of the DCLG, LGA, Socitm and SOLACE who have helped me form an understanding of where we are and shape the future direction of travel."

Kelly acknowledged sector concerns and the scale of the challenge faced, adding he felt that "the best way for us to show we have listened is to improve, so I want to set out some important next steps.

"Firstly, we have strengthened the leadership of the programme. I have asked Sarah Hurrell to lead the next stage, as PSN moves from programme stage to business as usual.... I would also like to take this opportunity to introduce Mark Pope, who has been asked to take on the role of PSN Programme Director, working to Sarah.

"I have asked Sarah and Mark to prioritise effective and constructive engagement and communications with our partners. I am personally planning to continue the series of meetings I have been having and I welcome the series of regional GCF events, the planned local government PSN Summit and the direct PSN Compliance team engagement with Authorities such as with the London Borough of Harrow.

"The Design Forum was particularly successful. Hosted by the PSN Compliance team on 2 December, 70 Local Authorities were represented, along with industry and IA/CLAS specialists, to assist in the development of network designs that can deliver on the requirements of local authority working practices and the need for cyber security. The team are currently working on the outcomes from the event with a view to providing additional guidance and support early in the New Year.

"The work done to date, as agreed with the representative bodies, achieves a practical and pragmatic approach to compliance taking into consideration the different context around local public service delivery, which will help ensure customers achieve compliance and successfully transition to PSN.

"The PSN team will ensure the PSN infrastructure best serves the interests of all Public Service organisations. This requires ongoing learning from all parties in order to deliver a secure infrastructure that delivers a level of security that is proportionate to the business risk and pragmatic in its implementation."

Kelly's letter continues: "Towards the immediate short term goal of all organisations receiving compliance certificates by 31 March 2014, we have made good progress. On the 9th December 2013, nearly 70% of organisations are compliant, with the majority of the remaining 30% expected to achieve compliance by March 2014. There will be part of an ongoing review of pragmatic risk mitigation. The cyber threat and security landscape is continually changing and we will be working with all our stakeholders to ensure we make the right decisions in the interests of delivering a secure infrastructure for efficient and modern public service operations.

"I want to make sure we support all organisations as they work towards compliance, and I feel confident that, through working together we can address some of your concerns and meet the important targets we have set ourselves."

Chief Operating Officer, Stephen Kelly then signs off saying that he looks forward "to an ongoing dialogue on this issue".

The issues and fears of local authorities around PSN have been real and great - without PSN connectivity councils would be unable to deliver statutory duties, including delivering housing benefit for example. However, the collaboration and determination from all sides to find a workable resolution to this problem has been unprecedented - and is to be commended as a great example of just how much benefit there is to be gained in working together across the public sector.

Here's hoping that the Local Government Senior's Forum continues to input to key digital and technology issues that cross traditional public sector boundaries - it seems to be a winning formula.