Local government should not attempt to create a single website for councils, according to public sector ICT professional representative body Socitm.
In a statement, Socitm said the idea of replicating the central government .gov.uk platform for local government was ‘ill conceived’, although it might appear attractive. Earlier this month, think tank Policy Exchange threw its weight behind the idea, after the concept was mooted last year in a blog posting by Richard Copley, head of ICT at Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council.
A statement by Socitm said: “Socitm welcomes and actively supports development of a common platform to enable the sharing of software tools and applications used in local government, including those that support self-service delivery through local authorities’ websites and other digital channels.
“These two separate ideas, on the one hand of a single local government website and on the other of a single platform for sharing software, have become conflated in recent media discussion causing widespread confusion.”
Socitm listed a number of reasons that it thinks such a proposal would be a bad idea.
It said: “Local authorities are independent, democratically accountable bodies. Citizens and businesses pay taxes and other charges to consume services delivered by their local authority. “A direct, digitally enabled relationship with the accountable body and its elected representatives is therefore essential.”
It added that a centralised website could not facilitate local democratic engagement.
In addition, it said that cost savings might be lower than assumed, due to the price of integration with back office systems, including those run by outsourced suppliers.
The Socitm statement added: “The logistics of not only developing and also sustaining a single local government website would be daunting.”
Socitm’s statement pointed out that attempts to create single software solutions for local government do not have a good track record.
It said: “Examples include the national project to create a single content management system for local government (Aplaws) funded by ODPM (forerunner of the Department of Communities and Local Government) in the e-government era up to 2005, and another project in the same era to create a common platform for fire service-related web transactions.
However, Socitm said that it welcomes and actively supports development of a common platform to enable the sharing of software tools and applications used in local government, including those that support self-service delivery through local authorities’ websites and other digital channels.
Socitm president Nick Roberts recently chaired a number of sessions at a local government ‘discovery day’ held on 13 June to identify assets created by GDS, including open APIs, code and platform assets and content, that might be re-used by local authorities.
He said: ‘It is not difficult to sign up to the idea that if there are transactions all local councils are operating, we only need to build once and share.
“We’d all welcome reducing dependence on proprietary systems and moving towards open source, publicly owned solutions and clearly GDS can support collaboration to evolve exemplar transactions.
“The key will be in using standard APIs to enable the integration of transaction code built once on a shared platform, say gov.uk, with existing local authority platforms.”