Joined-up Government

Not so long ago, computers were isolated machines that were used for a specific purpose. We then saw the development of networks connecting computers together at a local level and then at a wider level until we reached today’s situation where computers can be joined to a global network at relatively low cost. The evolution of the world wide web as an information sharing tool ideally suited to this global network has led to a major shift in the way in which people use information and relate to each other and to organisations. Tim Berners Lee’s book “Weaving the Web” is a very accessible guide to the thinking behind the ongoing development of the web.

There is little evidence that Government has responded to this seismic shift in the way in which it delivers information and services. Of particular relevance is the capability of the web to create a dislocation between public face of a service and the actual providers of that service. This dislocation brings with it huge potential benefits as it allows multiple channels to be used to access the same service. The choice of access channel can increase the reach of government services. The separation of back office function from access methods also allows for improved development of the backend functions.

Liberal Democrats would implement the following measures to bring about truly joined up government.

We would further develop the Office of Government Commerce to achieve best value in government purchasing of IT equipment and services.

We would implement a system of comprehensive cross Governmental standards with the goal of making systems more accessible to the citizen. The development of standards should reflect best practice across the IT sector as a whole.

We would aim to optimise the development of systems across Government by conducting interdepartmental systems impact assessments.

The nature of the networked world is such that many of the most useful developments come from the interaction between a number of players. It will often be the case that this will include both Government agencies and those in the private sector.

An example of this can be seen in the provision of information to the Inland Revenue. The information required for tax returns will often be held in company or personal finance packages. The best solutions for both Government and the citizen will come from taking positive steps to work with the suppliers of commercial finance packages to accept data from their systems.

We would actively work with any organisation that can provide a helpful gateway to Government services to improve the interaction of the relevant systems with each other.As society becomes increasingly dependent on electronic information systems the issue of the security of these systems will correspondingly grow in importance. There was a great deal of interest in this issue around the time of the ‘Millennium Bug’ but this has since largely faded. With the growing incidence of problems like denial or service attacks, financial fraud and the use of the Internet for terrorism or criminality there is now a need to place a far higher emphasis on security. Government-backed assurance schemes can play an important role in raising standards if they set high standards and are rigorously enforced. We would work with industry bodies that already operate in this area to raise the profile of security across the sector.

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