How data can help the public sector combat austerity

This general election result has taken many by surprise after not a single pre-election poll predicted a Conservative majority victory.

In a world dominated by predictive analysis, masses of data gathering and everything ‘open’, some might actually question how powerful data is. After all, the opinion polls and their own predictive analysis got it wrong.

But that doesn’t mean the public sector should see data as any less valuable. Unleashing the data held by the public sector can help deliver better services at a lower cost.

In the face of austerity, one of the biggest issues facing the public sector is information sharing. It must be made easier for anybody who works in the public sector to safely access the information they need to do their jobs and work collaboratively with their colleagues.

>See also: Why we need to unlock the value of public sector data

Safely sharing data is not about locking it down – there are around 45 information security rules to govern that. What the sector has to ensure is that information is available to be shared safely by being proportionate to the requirement. Security is necessary, but for the vast majority of information that needs to be shared it just needs to be done so cautiously.

The £8 billion NHS England shortfall and the local government’s £12 billion funding gap by 2020 are both well documented. The sector has a choice: stop providing some services altogether, or fundamentally reinvent the way it works.

If you were to draw up the structure of the UK public sector today, it would not look anything like what currently exists: 433 local authorities and a plethora of central government departments and associated agencies, many of which doing very similar things for similar people. An incremental approach must be found that supports the change that is required to ensure these shortfalls can be faced head on.

Progress is being made. Recently, Greater Manchester was given the responsibility to manage budgets for health and local government (around £6 billion), meaning the priority for them is to encourage the creation of new public sector teams that will work on the same groups of people, within specific areas and sharing resources.

But what is lagging is the processes and information governance to allow these people to get on with their jobs safely and easily and not have to worry about whether they are breaking information security rules.

Greater Manchester has the potential to be the gold standard in how digital reform can power the public sector. But that can only happen if teams and individuals have open access to critical information that is held within different areas of the public sector.

The fact that is not available today is holding back the recovery of the UK public sector. Authorities need to start focusing on safe information sharing and find ways to support those teams that are working on cross government programmes to enable transformation.

There is no common information governance policy in place that works when different teams across the sector come together. In central government, it’s very clear to civil servants what the rules are when it comes to sharing information. Local government and health have information governance policies too in the form of internal guidelines specific to an authority, trust or care commissioning group.

The issue of information sharing presents itself as a major problem when different teams come together with a common objective – the health and safety of the public – but they are governed by different rules about what they can and can’t share. So at best they stretch the rules, at worst they just don’t share.

The public sector must push for a policy framework that is accessible to everyone who works in the delivery of public services so they can easily and safely manage information they need to share to do their job.

The leaders of the respective authorities, trusts and government departments need to take responsibility and drive forward information assurance across the public sector.

It’s about trust. What PSN achieved in terms of simple email exchange is in establishing trust between central and local government. If someone sends an email to someone using a particular address, they can trust that person, but what about when they want to send that same information out to someone in the third sector, for example? It is not possible to do that safely because guidelines on the process do not exist.

>See also: Forget Miliband and Clegg – the biggest loser of the election is data

In order to establish safe information sharing practices, the involvement of industry is paramount. The public sector needs to harness the collective innovation of industry to deliver a federated solution for information sharing. It is not about a single prescriptive proprietary approach from a single vendor or a single organisation or department.

There needs to be real focus on information sharing from the Cabinet Office, which should work with industry to develop and lay down a platform that enables services to be created in new ways.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has made great progress with cloud-first strategies and But all that is meaningless unless people can access, use and share the information behind it.

It is only by working together in the public sector that data and its ability to reform and transform be truly realised.


Sourced from Phil Gibson, chairman, Innopsis

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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