The idea of creating a single LOCALGOV.UK site that brings together information and services for all local government users in the way that GOV.UK does for central government, is ill-conceived and should not be attempted, says Socitm, the professional association for IT and digital leaders working in local public services.
Although the idea sounds attractive, on closer inspection the single local government website concept is deeply flawed because:
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
The aim of the Localism Act 2011 is to devolve more decision making powers from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils. Such local democratic engagement is facilitated by council websites in a way it could not be done by a centralised local government website
While the range of services offered by councils is similar, these one thousand or more services are prioritised locally, through local democratic processes.
The cost savings from a single local government website are unlikely to be as great as some might assume. The major area of cost is not the website itself, but integration between it and back office systems, complicated by the variety of systems, processes and providers in place (including outsourced provision)
The logistics of not only developing and also sustaining a single local government website would be daunting.
However, 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 rejected the notion of a single local government website in a chapter in Better connected 2014, this year’s report on its annual survey of local government websites. It said that the case for a single local government website:
‘..ignores the independence of local authorities as organisations that have different democratic mandates and priorities… local government is exactly that. Local requirements, whether of geography, size, demographics or politics, must continue to drive council websites.’
Socitm’s Better connected also pointed out that attempts to create single software solutions for local government do not have a good track record. Examples include the national project to create a single content management system for local govenment (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 has long been an advocate of open standards that enable different software solutions, created in different circumstances for different purposes, to be interoperable and reusable for other purposes.
Socitm welcomed the offer by Mike Bracken, Director of the Government Digital Service, delivered at its conference in 2013, to enable GDS assets, including its content management system and other applications, to be made available to local government to re-use. Socitm is currently working with GDS to see how its transactions reporting tools can be re-used for local government purposes.