Labour mulls regional GDS structure

Labour’s Digital Government Review could recommend a regional model for a local version of the Government Digital Service, shadow Cabinet Office Chi Onwurah has hinted.

Speaking at the 2014 Socitm annual conference, Onwurah said that the review – which is examining the future of government digital services – is likely to be published within the next few weeks.

She said that creating some structure to enable collaboration would help create a bigger market and encourage innovation.

She said: “You shouldn’t be imposing from the centre but you can’t have more than 400 models for digital local government.

“We are looking at regional groupings. That might be the best way to work together, and share design and development of platforms that would be open.”

The regional model was recently mooted by supplier representative body TechUK last month in a manifesto for jobs and growth, which called on the next government to take a number of steps to boost the UK’s digital economy.

Onwurah said that many authorities are too small to develop effective digital services on their own.

She said: “It is unreasonable to expect local authorities to achieve what central government has failed to on less money.”

As part of Labour’s review, freedom of information requests were submitted to councils asking them for a breakdown of their digital infrastructure.

Onwurah said that 40% of councils didn’t respond, 14 authorities said the cost would be too high, and several said they could not respond as their ICT had been outsourced.

The shadow minsister criticised the coaltion government’s approach on digital inclusion, saying that it presumed that 10% of people would not be able or interested in using the internet. “That will not be our approach,” she said.

In addition, she called the government’s approach to data sharing was currently “a mess”.

“On the programme, each department has a different approach,” she said. “We will look at how to have a coherent approach.”

But although she said that local and national government had to have the in-house skills to effectively procure digital services, she said it was not in her power to guarantee the future of the Government Digital Service. 

Colin Marrs

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