£7.6m for Local Digital GDS – What would you do?
If you had £7.6m to spend on Local Digital, how would you spend it?
Martha Lane Fox’s vision for digital was about “how efficiencies can best be realised through the online delivery of public services”.
That’s a vision for all public services – not just for central government services. Its a vision that includes Local Authorities and local third sector organisations. It was this vision that resulted in the creation of GDS, the Government Digital Service.
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. That’s not because GDS is not interested in Local – it clearly is. It’s more because Local is really hard to engage with in a cohesive way. More of that below, but first some figures and evidence based financial logic:
- GDS has a budget of £58.3m for 2014/15, employing 635 staff (“425 civil servants and 210 interim staff”)
- GDS mostly works on central government projects
- “Local” makes up 13% of Public Sector expenditure (£98bn out of £732bn) – although some estimate it to be 23%.
- 13% of £58.3m is £7.6m. And 13% of 635 is 82.
- THEREFORE: Local GDS should have a budget of £7.6m and a staff of 82 people.
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?
Its not because Local is already fixed and there is nothing to further to do with digital. That’s not it.
Its not because Local Authorities don’t need help because they can spend their own budgets on Digital. They can, but then so can Central Government departments.
And its not because there is no requirement for shared digital assets for local public service. I can think of many.
I think its more because of the way in which local and central government is organised – this makes it hard for GDS to reach local. Hard, but not impossible. And anything created by people can be changed by people.
The enthusiastic volunteers at Local Gov Digital and Digital Makers are busy creating digital assets that can be used by many authorities. How much more productive they would be if they just had a couple of staff to develop their ideas. That would still leave 80 people.
Another crowd of local authority enthusiast volunteers, loosley associated with SOCITM, are working with GDS on a local government digital performance platform. Performance Dashboards are at the top of the GDS business plan priority list. Our local variants been slow going, because GDS is focussed on the central government exemplars and central government dashboards. We are not going to transform government with two dashboards in 6 months. How much faster and better we would have been if we had just two people to develop and co-ordinate this. That would still leave 78 people.
The problem with Local fixing its own problems with volunteers, is that the authorities paying the salaries for specific local outcomes, require their people to work for them. I know too many situations where well intentioned and energised initiatives have withered on the vine because it is distracting from the “day job”.
I don’t think Local GDS needs anywhere near £7.6m and 82 people. But I do think it needs some central capacity. And I’m convinced that the culture, methods and passion of GDS make it the right place to host Local GDS. It does not have to be in London but, for the sake of the users, it does have to be joined up thinking.
I can think of hundreds of things a Local GDS might produce. There’s a debate coming up at which I have been invited to speak and I’ll share more of those there and on this blog.
There has been some discussion about a single web site for all local authorities. I strongly believe that there is a requirement for Local GDS, but I don’t believe one monster 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.
Also, most of the costs of digital are not in the front end of a web site. The costs are in the digital business processes; how the website transfers information to and from the “back office” systems. I know there is a lot that a Local GDS could do to standardise this and drive out costs from suppliers.
So a single web site for Local is not the solution. But imagine a Local GDS that produces open source code that each authority can freely implement; and then switch off expensive commercial software, while delivering better digital services for their local customers. It would be irresponsible not to do that.
So, if you are passionate about Digital in Local, claim your Local GDS investment.
– Do you think it’s unfair that Central Digital has all the GDS money?
– What would you do with £7.6m and 82 staff for local digital?