Availability of Credits’ platform-as-a-service and new Socitm briefing point towards potential use of distributed ledger technology by public authorities
A blockchain platform provider has become the first to land a place on the Government’s G-Cloud framework, adding fuel to the potential of a role for distributed ledger technology in public services.
The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) has announced that blockchain platform provider Credits will be able to offer its platform-as-a-service to the public sector within the terms of G-Cloud 8.
It marks the emergence of a technology that has so far created a stir in the financial world for the regulation of cryptocurrencies, and which its advocates say could play a significant role in public services.
Blockchain emerged initially to provide a public ledger of bitcoin transactions, and has been developed to provide a mechanism to check on the validity and audit a chain of transactions. It involves the use of blocks of timestamped transactions, all of which are linked into a chain.
Credits made the first steps into using the technology in public services in the British Isles earlier this year, when it began work with the Isle of Man Government on trials of the use of a blockchain register of companies using the technology themselves.
Nick Williamson, chief executive officer, told UKAuthority the project is ongoing, and that the company has been in discussion with a number of public authorities on the mainland about potential uses of distributed ledgers.
He cited the possible example of NHS and private healthcare providers using them to maintain the integrity and access controls of patient records.
The statement from CCS highlighted the potential in the technology for agencies such as the NHS, HM Passport Office, the Land Registry and HM Revenue & Customs.
“There are a couple of bodies that have the potential to move more quickly, especially in data provenance and access use cases,” Williamson said.
“We are talking directly and indirectly to various government agencies in the UK, in some cases through partners.
“We hope we will have the first publicly available demonstrations and use cases in the short to medium term.”
In April, former Minister for the Cabinet Office Matt Hancock banged the drum for distributed ledgers, saying they could help to create “an ecosystem of interconnected components that departmental teams can use to assemble their services”.
Earlier in the year a report from the Government’s chief scientist, Sir Mark Walport, emphasised the potential of the technology for reducing fraud, error and the cost of paper intensive processes in public services.
He recommended that government should run trials with distributed ledgers and support the creation of demonstrators in local government.
It has also been reported that the Department for Work and Pensions has been running a proof of concept trial with the technology for tracking benefits claimants’ receipts and spending patterns as a step towards providing advice on financial management.
Public sector IT association Socitm has added its voice to those highlighting blockchain’s potential with a briefing that says it is set to disrupt business models in the public and private sectors, and could shift power towards service users.
It suggests that it may not be long before the relevant concepts could be included in redesign exercises for public services, particularly for building new policy instruments.
It points to two key strands. One is the use of private blockchains by individual organisations, ad hoc communities or formal consortia that do not need or want completely public access. It points to the DWP’s pilot as an example.
The other is that blockchains could be used in the commercial marketplace to provide low costs peer-to-peer alternatives to providing services.
Socitm says that public sector organisations could use the technology for self-auditing databases of immutable, secure records, and to provide deeper levels of automation of tax billing and receipts processes. The latter could reduce the opportunities for avoidance and fraud.
There are also opportunities for expanded credit unions, electronic voting systems, secure identity management systems for online services, and smart contracts that link councils, contractors, local residents and bodies that manage services at a granular level. Examples of the latter could include the management of smart bins or lending and sharing schemes.
Image by Toni Lozano, CC BY 2.0