Socitm takes apart single council website proposal

Attempting to create a single website for local government would be impractical and undermine localism, according to Socitm, the professional body for council ICT staff.

Earlier this year, think tank Policy Exchange suggested that building a single web platform for council services would help councils deal with budgetary pressures and improve services.

The idea was immediately rejected by Socitm, but it has now released a more detailed exploration of why it believes the idea would not work and is not desireable.

In its paper, released today, Socitm said: “For many commentators, the only way to force the required pace of change is to create the kind of top-down, centrally mandated change that has followed the creation of the GDS and the single GOV.UK website.

“Quite apart from the huge practical difficulties of imposing such change in local government, there is no guarantee that it would deliver the desired result.”

The paper pointed out that previous attempts to create uniformity in web design, such as the Local Government Navigation List, or single software solutions such as content management system APLAWS had failed.

It added that although a single local government could deliver economies of scale, the major cost would be created by its integration with a large number of back office systems.

“While in theory much of this could be rationalised too, in real life all councils are at different stages in the acquisition life cycle of their line of business and other legacy systems.

“Bringing all of this together within a reasonable time-frame would be a project of epic proportions,” it said.

Additionally, according to Socitm, a centralised local government website could not facilitiate local democratic engagement.

It said: “Furthermore, any move to get rid of local government websites would run completely counter to the Localism Act and its aim of devolving more decision-making into the hands of individuals, communities and councils.”

In the past two months, a number of meetings have been held to identify assets created by the Government Digital Service which could be re-used by local authorities with a view to reducing dependence on proprietary systems and moving towards open source, publicly owned solutions.

Socitm’s paper said that this approach “will make full use of standard APIs to enable the integration of transaction code built once on a shared platform where various software assets reside that can be exploited by different information systems – ‘government as a platform’.”

It said it would explore its ideas in more detail later this month.

Colin Marrs

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