Association says that absence of funds for councils’ digital efforts in Spending Review prompts a need to align programmes with local government needs
Public sector IT association Socitm has called on the Cabinet Office to ensure the Government Digital Service (GDS) extends its focus to local services, following the announcements on digital programmes in the government’s Spending Review.
Yesterday’s announcements from Chancellor George Osborne indicated that £1.8 billion will be made available to support the digital transformation of services over the next five years, including £450 million to support the work of the GDS, money for the digitisation of tax services and to support healthcare IT. But nothing has been provided to support local government’s digital plans.
In a statement, Socitm expressed disappointment, saying the decision ignored the need to join up public services locally.
“The Spending Review talks about digitising services and stronger collaboration between different parts of the public sector, but there is no further detail,” it said, adding: “There is no mention of any interest in or commitment to supporting the digital transformation of locally delivered services.”
It welcomed the three GDS programmes highlighted by the government – Common Technology Services, Government as a Platform and GOV.UK Verify – but said they should be made available to all the public sector, not just central government.
Martin Ferguson (pictured), Socitm’s director of policy and research, told UKAuthority that this reflects a belief that GDS has increasingly focused on the needs of Whitehall departments and central agencies.
“We were engaged in the early days of Verify, then the focus shifted the delivery of the programme to central government services, and the programme board and the advisory group in which we participated were disbanded,” he said. “The only engagement since then has been through the Blue Badge scheme in Warwickshire.
“We can understand why GDS has had a central government brief to now, but when look at Government as a Platform and the other programmes it all has to be available for local services.”
Ferguson said that although the results of the programmes are likely to be available for local government, it needs more input from the sector to ensure they are scalable through local services. This could go some way to rectifying the lack of money for local government digital programmes in the Spending Review.
He also said that local authorities are generally keen to take make use of the platforms and services to be delivered by GDS.
The Cabinet Office, within which GDS works, has declined to comment on the prospects for local government’s digital programmes.
The Local Government Association expressed disappointment with the Spending Review, saying that local services will have be cut back or lost altogether.
Its chairman, Lord Porter, said: "It is wrong that the services our local communities rely on will face deeper cuts than the rest of the public sector yet again and for local taxpayers to be left to pick up the bill for new government policies without any additional funding.”
NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS) responded to the announcement by urging organisations from public services other than healthcare to consider buying services through its frameworks, which include IT.
Peter Akid, director of procurement at NHS SBS, said: “Police forces, local authorities, central government departments and hundreds of other public sector bodies have already started to spend tens of millions of pounds each year through frameworks that were originally designed for the NHS, achieving major savings that can help ensure frontline services remain sustainable into the future.
“Savings realised so far, however, are only the tip of the iceberg. We are happy to provide free access to any public sector body so that they can take advantage of NHS buying power and get best prices from suppliers in order to protect frontline services.”
Ferguson expressed reservations, however, saying that local government already has access to other procurement frameworks that can provide significant savings.