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Councils 'need new digital body and GDS support'

18/01/16

LocalGov Digital vice chair calls for more central assistance for local government as part of new UK Digital Strategy

Local government needs more help from the centre to improve its digital services, one of the sector's national leaders has told the Government.

richKeyboardRedGov400x266Phil Rumens, vice chair of LocalGov Digital, has called for the creation of a new body to support the effort, and for an extension in the remit of the Government Digital Service (GDS) to work formally with local government.

He has made the call as a submission to the Government on a new UK Digital Strategy, following its call for ideas, and cited a group of other officials as having provided input.

In the submission, Rumens claims that the new organisation would require only a few people to join up the work of central and local government, along with anyone else looking for improvements in digital local services. He predicted a number of benefits, including: reducing the duplication of work; better knowledge transfer, including standards for data and services; sharing skills between councils; and increased influence for local communities on digital services.

“The outcome would be better, cheaper digital services,” he says.

Platform access

Although LocalGov Digital is already working with GDS, he also proposes extending its role into working with local authorities. This would give them access to the platforms being built by the organisation, such as the one for payments, and enable them to share data through registers.

While some councils already use GDS resources such as the Government Service Design Manual, extending its remit could provide new expertise for local government. Rumens suggests the work could be coordinated by the new body.

He also says there is the potential to open up a new market for companies selling digital products, based on the Government as a Platform strategy, and that councils could move to becoming facilitators rather than suppliers or commissioners of services.

LocalGov Digital is a network of digital practitioners in local government who are aiming to create a digital framework and to raise standards in the field.

The prospects for local government's digital initiatives have raised concerns in some quarters, after the Government's 2015 Spending Review imposed a tight financial settlement on the sector and did not provide any money to support its digital efforts.

By contrast, GDS has received £450 million to cover its work for the Spending Review period, which has increased the calls for it to focus more of its work on local authorities.

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