Did you know that the UK government requires all Town and Parish Councils to follow a Technology Code of Practice?
This is alluded to in the Local Digital Declaration – if you are not sure what that is please read IT Norwich Ltd and the Local Digital Declaration first and then come back.
The code of practice has been published to help government design, build and buy technology and whilst most Parish or Town Clerks are probably aware of this, they may not know exactly what this means. The code of practice can be inspected at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-technology-code-of-practice. The code may be straightforward reading for many but it’s not a huge stretch to assume not all Clerks or Councillors have read and understand each of the points it makes.
This page highlights a couple of key points from the code of practice that relate to open source software, which we both encourage, support and use ourselves.
What is Open Source?
If you are not sure what open source means then take a look at Open Source for the Non Expert but essentially open source software is software where the ‘program code’ has been published free of charge for anyone to inspect, use or improve. This is without question an approach to software publishing that is good for citizens and society as a whole. As we shall see below the UK government require all parts of government to use open source software; if you are using software that is not open source, you are most likely contravening government guidance.
What are the obligations on Councils in respect of Open Source and Open Standards?
The code of practice has several obligations, here are those that relate to open source and open standards with some explanatory notes:
Technology Code of Practice Point 3
“Publish your code…”
Though it is unlikely that small Parish Councils will pay for any software development it is quite likely that larger Town Councils may have software written for them from time to time. Here the code of practice requires you to publish the code so that other councils can benefit from that work too. It makes perfect sense and will save money for local governments in the long run. There is no point in one council paying for development that could benefit several councils and paying for it more than once.
“…and use open source software to improve transparency, flexibility and accountability.”
If your council is using Microsoft Windows, Microsoft 365, Microsoft Office or any other Microsoft product then it is in all likelihood being operated in a way that does not adhere to the code of practice. There are perfectly good open source operating systems and application suites that can replace these products with a little bit of training and support. The fact that transitioning to these products might take a little bit of effort does not mean it is not the right thing to do. There is no reason any Town or Parish Council should not be able to find suitable IT solutions provided for in an open source way, though finding an IT provider that will help on your transition to Open Source could be challenging.
Technology Code of Practice Point 4
“Make use of open standards.”
Whereas open source software is transparent, how systems interoperate must be open and transparent too. As an example – when you email a member of the public a file (like an agenda), how do you ensure that member of the public can open the file you sent? If you send them a Word file are your forcing them to purchase software? If you send them a PDF file are you forcing them to download ‘free’ software and assume the will agree to the terms and conditions set out by the software publisher? You must try to ensure that the systems your council uses is operated in such a way that is collaborative and open. Critically the guidance has the purpose of avoiding vendor lock in and again is a way to ensure commercial entities like Microsoft or Google can’t make you pay and keep paying for services you and citizens are forced to use due to historic decisions made without considering open source alternative
How do we comply with the code of practice?
Each Parish and Town Council should make an effort to comply with the code of practice and move to open source systems. Smaller councils with no offices, a part time clerk and a handful of councillors ought to be able to migrate without much of a problem, whereas larger councils that may have a number of employees and councillors based in an office with their own computer systems are going to have to carefully plan the migration to open source alternatives over time, the first step of which is likely to need a systems assessment. Regardless of the size of your council we suggest you create an IT committee to assess the state of play, examine your options and plan the migration of systems and data.
What services can IT Norwich Ltd offer?
As a Managed Service Provider we specialise in advising on and providing the infrastructure upon which our customers systems sit. In many ways a Parish or Town Council is no different – the IT infrastructure is considered the platform that enables organisations such as your council to operate.
Although our core business is deployment and support of Microsoft based solutions, we like to work with open source software and have developed a suite of services that can be customised to suit your needs. Our Open Source Service Packages include:
- Feasibility Studies (Can we migrate your council to open source?)
- Operating Systems Deployment & Support (Linux based desktops and servers)
- Application Deployment & Support (Libre Office, Thunderbird etc)
- Access Control Solutions (e.g. Active Directory Alternatives)
- Systems Maintenance and Management (Ongoing Support)
How we can help your council start the ball rolling on Open Source.
Once the Clerk and all Councillors understand the obligation to use Open Source software and recognise how using Open Source software benefits citizens versus commercial alternatives, a council should follow this rough plan:
- Form a committee that will be responsible for identifying and communicating with suitable IT partners and overseeing change.
- Organise an assessment of existing systems to see which ones can be replaced with open source solutions, with ball park costings provided separately.
- Agree some delegation of responsibility to the IT provider who will publish an IT roadmap to be implemented over time.
Note that by selecting IT Norwich as your partner, deployment and support can be carried out with generous discounts as part of our Community Technology Programme.
If you want to discuss this please Contact Us today to organise a meeting.