Debate highlights ambition for one platform for local government
Politicians from the main parties have indicated that there will be a stronger emphasis on local government in the work of the Government Digital Service (GDS) after the general election.
The message emerged from The Big Digital Debate, staged by TechUK, the BCS and Computer Weekly in London on Monday, which featured spokespeople on IT issues from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.
All three praised the achievements of the GDS, although Chi Onwurah, Labour's shadow minister for digital government, said the Cabinet Office's emphasis on central government had prevented it making much difference in local government, where most service delivery is concentrated.
"It has been fixed on central government, saving money and transactional services, but we want to make it more about dealing with citizens on issues such as those around social care, benefits, housing and looked after children," she said. "These really are important services that need to be addressed and it can only be done by local government.
"We want to see a platform developed for local, national and third parties, one that providers can share to enable collaboration in the delivery of services to make it better for citizens."
Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture and the digital economy, said GDS does have the ambition to work with local government, but that it has had to concentrate so far on the basics of making it work for central government.
"The concept of government as a platform is one where you could save billions of pounds by rationalising websites and providing one gateway to government services, but it is complex and it takes time," he said. "The ambition is to have local government on one platform."
Liberal Democrat spokesman Julian Huppert MP joined in the praise for the GDS, said that government should continue its commitment to open source and open data, and emphasised the need to give people a sense of ownership of their own data.
Vaizey and Onwurah also asserted that the data belongs to the individuals who provide it, not to government, reflecting the long standing concerns about potential invasions of privacy. But none provided any detailed thoughts on how to approach the issue.
In addition, Onwurah expressed a continuing concern with digital exclusion, making the point that the increased emphasis on online services risks marginalising people with no internet skills or access.
Much of the debate revolved around how to promote the role of UK IT companies in the international economy. There was a consensus of sorts that, it would help if more MPs had a grasp of how the digital economy works and were able to make a better informed contribution to relevant policies in Parliament.