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Minister proposes 'open source' solution for council websites

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Local authorities should not be spending money developing their own individual web portals when a single system could be developed and shared across councils, a government minister has said.

Speaking at a conference on public service reform on Wednesday, cabinet office minister Matt Hancock praised the Government Digital Service and its approach of developing platforms which could be shared across government for free.

The service developed the gov.uk platform now used for all Whitehall department websites.

Mr Hancock said GDS was now developing “core digital infrastructure for common activities like making and receiving payments, or tracking the status of an application” which would allow the public to deal with government “through one simple interface”.

Asked whether councils would be able to use the product he said: “The product should be available to local government… We are looking at what we can do to ensure that specific requirements of local government, as opposed to the source code more broadly, are available, that’s part of the spending review.”

Many local authorities are currently developing their own individual web portals, working with companies such as Agilisys and Civica, allowing residents to access services on line and conduct secure transactions, such as paying council tax.

Asked by LGC whether they should wait for an ‘off the shelf’ government product, Mr Hancock said he would “hate to see every council spending the development money to develop their own portal”.

“One portal written in open source software could be used by lots and lots of different councils and joined up that way,” he said.

Trevor Holden, chief executive of Luton BC, advocated a centralised approach at a recent Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers event.

He told LGC he welcomed the minister’s comments and called for a single piece of research and development work to develop the software, coordinated by central government or the Local Government Association.

“The vision has to be buy it once and buy well,” he said. “There should be a single portal it should be local and central government in the first instance but with an aspiration for the whole public sector so [for example] it knows who your GP is as well and you could book appointments through the system.”

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