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Think tank: Open source requires cultural shift of UK councils

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Local government services in the United Kingdom should consider switching to open source software solutions, recommends the Local Government Information Unit, a think tank, in a report published this Tuesday. "The collective thinking and cost-effectiveness that open source providers offer cannot be matched in terms of expertise [and] of value for money by the traditional proprietary software providers. This cultural shift will open the door for a new era of innovative IT solutions that can transform local government services, empowering staff and delivering unrivalled value to taxpayers."

Despite encouragement from the central government, open source "has, as yet, failed to catch-on with local government outside of niche, back-office, applications", the LGIU writes. The think tank blames IT vendor lock-in, hindering migration to for instance open source office productivity tools such as LibreOffice, or Apache OpenOffice.

"For many years, expensive mega-vendors have dominated the IT procurement space in the UK public sector", LGIU writes. "In this environment, the notion that buying into costly, inflexible contracts is somehow the 'safe option' has taken hold and led to numerous projects that often finish over budget and over time."

Leading examples

LGIU points its members, including over 150 local councils, to the UK Cabinet Office open source toolkit and efforts to create a level playing field and its encouraging of SMEs to participate in public procurement. "Local government organisations can look to examples of successful open source deployment in central government as a source of inspiration for delivering better services alongside significant savings."

"Major sites such as GOV.UK have made extensive use of open source software, including databases, frameworks, caches and web servers through their technology stack. The digital services provided by GOV.UK have been estimated to save taxpayers over 20 million GBP."

The think tank recommends local government decision-makers to look again at how best to manage IT operations to make savings whilst improving public services.

"The paper was written to try and make some sense of the digital agenda for local authorities", comments Stuart Bentley, author of the report. "There is scope for open source, but it will require a radical culture change within local government. I'm not sure the leadership is there for it yet."

 

More information:

Digital in the public sector, briefing paper
Public Technology news item