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LibDems call for gov 'IT skills' office

Policy paper suggests senior civil servants don't 'get' IT

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The Liberal Democrats have said the government should set up a new office to promote IT skills throughout Whitehall, in an effort to fill the "skills gap" in the sector.

The proposal is one of a number in a new paper, Preparing the Ground: Stimulating Growth in the Digital Economy, which outlines the party's position on IT policy for the public and private sectors.

It says that with a few exceptions ministers and senior civil servants do not "get" IT or understand the implications of their technology based decisions. "The evidence we received from key figures suggested that the gap in skills across government and the civil service is now so severe that major action is necessary," it says.

To overcome this, the paper says, the government should set up an office that takes in the work of its chief information officer and is staffed with experts to advise other departments of how IT could improve efficiency and the quality of services, and encourage online engagement with the public.

The office would have responsibility for procurement policy and oversight of all major IT contracts across government, a move the paper says would promote interconnectivity. It would also provide support with the relevant project management techniques.

It also calls for all civil service and local government managers above a certain grade to receive training, which should be refreshed annually, in the impact of IT.

The paper also supports the wider use of open source by the public sector, but says the government should not establish rules but act as a "nexus of information, doing good work in telling people 'these are the solutions we've found to work'".

It proposes that the government should support open-source community websites that provide services to a similar or better standard than publicly funded sites, and that it should consider providing resources to their creators. This would be better than trying to replicate the work.

It should also ensure that it owns the code it has paid for, and share it for free within the public sector. There is also scope for collaborative development of open source solutions.

Another recommendation is that all government data should be consistent with a single, interoperable open standards framework, with no restrictions on the development and use of applications to produce information from the data. There should also be an assumption that public non-personal data belongs to the nation and should be freely available.

But it also returns to traditional Liberal Democrat concerns about government's use of personal data, saying that any held by a department should not be accessed by others without adhering to established security protocols and standards. In addition, the government should adopt a central principle that data should belong to the individual to whom it refers, unless it relates to national security or policing. ®

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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