Foreshew-Cain says GDS cannot do everything for local government

Stephen Foreshew-Cain, executive director at the Government Digital Service, says local government could do more to collaborate on digital transformation, but stopped short of backing a local version of his body.

Speaking at the Tech UK Public Services Conference in London’s Shoreditch, Foreshew-Cain said that the GDS is providing a “national digital infrastructure” that isn’t just for central government.

But he said that local government could learn lessons from the work his team has done to transform digital services provided by Whitehall.

He said: “You shouldn’t have to understand how government is constructed to get the thing that you want. So ensuring that all of the things that the teams at GDS do – and the teams right across central government – if they have value for local, finding a way of pooling that and making it available. 

“Whether or not there should be a local GDS – I think there should be a group that talks about that, and I can help them do that. But it’s certainly not part of my remit today. 

“I think there are ways of accelerating local digital transformation, building on the patterns that we’ve established within GDS. It’s important to acknowledge, though, that some of the challenges in local are different to the challenges we’ve solved in central government.”

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Foreshew-Cain said that local government could do more to collaborate on digital transformation.

He said: “I can convene a group of central government [staff], procure on behalf of central government, set a standard for central government and then require them to adhere to it.

“There is not a similar thing within local. There is, I think a way and a willingness to come together, to pool resources to do that, and build upon what we’ve done.”

He identified procurement as one area that makes collaboration at a local level more complicated than within central government.

He said: “I think the contract landscape is different. Within central government, we do have the ability to say we need a service change, because we are one government, we can use one central payment platform and step back into the service for that to be a seamless transaction for the citizen. 

“That’s not necessarily true in the way that local government is procuring its service provision. Often they don’t have control – they buy a service and they are unable to take advantage of a payment platform existing elsewhere. 

“So I think there’s a lot of work there to understand what are the different procurement systems for local services and how can they avail themselves of the growing digital infrastructure of central government.”

Colin Marrs

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