One thing my love of long-running local casework sagas (see potholes passim, for example) has taught me is how many different councils have developed – that is, paid for – their own individual IT systems to do very similar tasks, such as recording and managing reports of mine. Competition and variation frequently has many merits, but given how often those systems are not that great and given how many different systems there are, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that large sums of money are being wasted by numerous different parts of the public sector all paying for pretty much the same work to be done time after time.
It’s an issue I’ve raised with Lib Dem peer Chris Rennard, and so it was great to see him pursuing it in the Lords today:
Lord Rennard: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House the Government’s policies in relation to the development of the computer code or software they pay for and whether it should be made more freely available for others to use and extend? Does she accept that allowing this could sometimes prevent the public sector wasting money by paying more than once to develop the same software and that it would also be incredibly helpful to the private and voluntary sectors?
Baroness Verma: The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise that point. As part of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement last year government departments agreed to release a substantial package of data including material relating to many of the major departments. Most people will also be able to access data rather freely through our Open Data Institute, which we hope to have fully launched by September.
Data and software are each part of the overall picture and it’s one on which the government – following, to be fair, some good work by Labour (especially Tom Watson) – is starting to make some really good progress on. But I’m sure the pressure will need to be kept up through Parliamentary Questions like this one.