by Richard Steel

Aiming for Rational Government!

Apr 16, 20097 mins
IT Leadership

I was back at Russell Square House for my first appointment, today, in a Socitm Intellect LG Forum Management Committee – the first, I believe that I’ve been able to make as Socitm President, and definitely the last!

Potential Thought Leadership work was on the agenda. Carla had drawn-up a short paper, from the context of “as suppliers of technology, Intellect members are uniquely positioned to provide an expert view of how technology can be put to better use in order to contribute to the first-class provision of public services in local government” – to provoke our thoughts on issues such as “what will Local Government look like in 10 years?”

There was consensus on some of the immediate issues, including public sector aggregated procurement/ asset reuse, the role of the CIO and pervasive & unified community infrastructure.

Among the planned future Forum themes are “E-Government 10 years on” (18th November). I volunteered Priya to present the conclusions from her MBA Thesis on the subject, which she has just embarked upon.

David Pullinger, the COI’s Head of Digital Policy, again attended the start of today’s Naming and Approvals Committee meeting at Hercules House to give us an update on progress and take any questions. He told us that just over 50%, nearly 700, of the websites that were planned to be closed now have been, with commitments to close another 355.

The COI is now getting a good grip on, and controlling Government web presence more effectively. Committee members were thanked for their contribution to this important work. The Team was now starting to tackle other Government domains, such as NHS, MOD and Police.

David’s erudite response to my question about the raison d’être for our work, given the power of search (see my Idle Thoughts on 19th March) persuaded me that it is indeed worthwhile. Whilst accepting that search engines are becoming ever more sophisticated and accurate, our work on audience focus, editorial policy and manageability – typically material that’s transferred to DirectGov is reduced to a tenth of its original volume – facilitates reduced bureaucracy and the promotion of trust in government.

Tests have shown that DirectGov is now achieving higher trust levels that names like Tesco and the BBC. I mentioned that among our biggest challenges are appeals about requested use of acronyms that cite precedents. Whilst accepting that this can create some consternation, David was clear that precedents don’t count. The Naming & Standards Guidance is now our bible to help achieve consistency and coherence. He often asks people in Government to explain their own acronyms – and they often fail!

David was also asked about policy on portals, such as “My….”. Work on these was being undertaken by the CTO Council, linked to ID Management, with a particular view to avoiding the need for multiple log-ons. There is a “Contact Council”, also, undertaking work in this area – on intermediaries.

The major discussion item for the Committee was a paper covering:

• The maintenance of domain names in perpetuity. A study in 2007 revealed that 60% of the URLs cited in Hansard are broken links leading to 404 errors or ‘Page not found’. To solve this problem, COI has recently introduced new guidance on managing URLs[1] (TG125) which requires central government departments, executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies to maintain all Web domains in perpetuity. This is possible even after a website has closed by maintaining the domain name and implementing redirection to The National Archives. Any public facing websites are to become part of the national archive as part of the public record and, henceforth, all requests for central government cancellations will therefore be referred to the COI.

• All domains that do not comply with eligibility criteria are to be removed. We believe there are quite a few which may have resulted from an organisation’s change of status, or as a result of guidelines having changed or not having been adhered to in the past. Socitm was cited as an example, but there are others, such as It was agreed that all current domain names will be reviewed for eligibility, and that JANET (originally “Joint Academic Network) which is responsible for the administration and registration of domain names, should refer to COI renewals where the continued existence is not obvious. Ninety days be allowed to enable redirects of disqualified websites to their new domains before the DNS (Domain Name System for mapping IP addresses to websites) is withdrawn.

• The current list of central government websites – used in the Website Rationalisation project – contains a sizeable proportion (~25%) of non-government domains (e.g. .org, etc). There are also examples of government domains redirecting outside the domain. It was agreed to review the current list of domain names within 6 months, and to review the current website rationalisation list and, where sites are not already due to close, insist on them being re-registered on

There are, apparently, 3,955 domains at present; 147 were due for renewal in April.

In the afternoon, I met with Paul Davidson (Director of LeGSB) Mark Brett and Adrian Hancock to discuss consolidation of Information Governance Models for Local Government – of which there are many! Paul listed the following, but there are others:

• The CESG Information Assurance Maturity Model

• The LeGSB Information Governance Toolkit.

• The Adult Social Care Information Governance Toolkit.

• The DWP MoU for access to CIS.

• The CoCo for GCSx.

• The Data Handling Guidelines.

We couldn’t see why we should need more than one across all of the public sector. Applicability would depend upon a User’s role in Government. This, of course, is linked to the requirement for an overarching vision for pan-Government security. At the present, our silo’d Government departments each reinvent its own requirements in ignorance of others’, and Local Government is expected to struggle to cope with them all. Not acceptable! We therefore determined to organise ourselves to campaign for a more rational approach that starts with the pan-Government security vision. This will include requirements for accreditation of secure network access right across Government.

Some other issues fell-out of this discussion – including articulation of requirements for organisational Information Asset Registers, which also facilitate requirements such as Rights Management and the several other related data management requirements (such as spatial data) which currently seem to have their own management bodies acting independently of one another.

An issue for Socitm was how can we ensure our member representatives to Government Quangos are effectively supported by paid officers who will ensure that actions and decisions made in meetings are taken-forward?

We agreed to plan a day in which the morning will be dedicated to developing earlier work on engaging wider public sector stakeholders in building and lobbying for sign-up to the required pan-Government vision, and a workshop, in the afternoon, will determine Information Asset Register, linked to Information Reuse, requirements. Recruitment of volunteers for a “Psikey” pilot will also be covered.

In the evening I joined Adrian and Rose for dinner with four of the short-listed applicants for the Socitm Head of Policy position. They are being interviewed, tomorrow, by a panel comprising Steve Palmer (incoming President) Rose Crozier (HR Director) and Adrian Hancock I(Managing Director). The fifth candidate is on holiday, and will be interviewed during the course of next week’s Socitm Spring National Conference.