Central government funding for digital services is currently unfair because virtually none of the Government Digital Services budget is spent on local authorities, according to Socitm’s immediate past president.
Steve Halliday, head of ICT at Solihull Metropolitan District Council this week weighed into the debate on the creation of a centralised resource to co-ordinate the development of local authority websites.
He said that a vision produced by the government’s former digital champion Martha Lane Fox in 2010 had covered all public services, whereas the resulting GDS is focused on central government.
In a blog, he said: “Today however, GDS spends virtually all its energies and budget on central government. There are a few exceptions. I have been fortunate enough to work with GDS on a local digital project – but it has to be fitted in around the central government work that is GDS’s focus.
A huge amount of talent, energy and budget is invested in GDS – and it simply does not reach local public services in any significant way.”
However, he said that this was not because GDS is not interested in local issues, but rather because it is hard to engage with in a cohesive way.
Halliday claimed that any local GDS created to coordinate council websites could have an annual budget of £7.6m and a staff of 82 people.
His calculation came from reasoning that because local spending makes up 13% of public sector expenditure, it should take that proportion of the GDS budget of £58.3m for 2014/15.
He said: “I feel like an adolescent raging that “its not fair”! But quite frankly, it is not fair. Even if you accept that half of what GDS produces can be used across all sectors, there still should be 40 people working for Local GDS.
“How could this have happened, that central government digital has become so well invested in, whereas local government has not?”
The GDS budget plan shows that its original budget for this year was £16.12m but that figure was boosted after it took on a number of transformation projects from other Whitehall departments.
Halliday also dismissed the idea of a single website for all local authorities, mooted by some in the sector.
He said: “I strongly believe that there is a requirement for Local GDS, but I don’t believe one local government website would improve user experience or drive down costs.
“Local authorities are politically and financially autonomous – the governance alone for a single web site across all of them would almost certainly make user experience and cost effectiveness worse.”