Councils invited to talk about uses for the identity assurance service as part of the GDS effort to bring local government into the loop
Jess McEvoy, head of policy and engagement for the programme within the Government Digital Service (GDS), told the Local Digital Futures conference on Friday that it is now looking for conversations with officials from interested organisations.
Her invitation was one of a handful of statements from GDS representatives at the event aimed at stepping up the dialogue with local government about the development of its different workstreams.
So far the Verify programme, which is creating a system for online identity assurance for public services, has been focused heavily on central government. But McEvoy said there has been some work with local government and that the GDS wants to build more momentum for the service’s wider use.
“We’ve done a few pilots with various people in local government through the Open Identity Exchange where we’ve looked to see what digital identity enables,” she said. “Warwickshire and South Yorkshire are among the councils we’ve worked with.
“More importantly at the moment, we’re very focused on getting our product into live in April, but we have a team working on a project looking at how Verify can be used across other sectors. It’s not limited to local government, we’re looking at other sectors like health, but we’re very interested in people who want to speak to us further about that.
“We’re about halfway through a discovery, and the aim is to understand what a model could look like by the time we go live, so we can move forward with something new after April.”
Verify is due to go live next month, with the GDS forecasting that it will initially be used by about 15 central government services, nine of which have been using it in a public beta phase.
Local government officials might also hope that it points to a gradual stepping up of GDS’s work with their sector. Councils received no money to support digital transformation efforts in last November’s Spending Review, while GDS was the beneficiary of £450 million over five years.
It has recently provided support for LocalGovDigital’s creation of a set of draft standards for digital service design in local government, and representatives used the Local Digital Futures event – organised by the Department for Communities and Local Government – to emphasise that much of its work has a relevance to local services.
Felicity Singleton, programme director enabling strategy at GDS, highlighted its work in building platforms such as Verify and those for payments and notifications, and the development of the Digital Marketplace and features such as canonical lists of registers as elements of a national data infrastructure.
“All of these approaches are just as applicable across the wider public sector as they are to central government,” she said. “They’re also not rocket science, we’re not the first people to come up with an approach like this.
“We really want to encourage re-use of all of our resources, tools and platforms where appropriate. There are things like the Digital Marketplace that we would encourage people across the public sector to use, and talk to us if there are things we can do to improve it.
“We want to think about how we make platforms like Verify applicable more widely, and we want to share, collaborate and learn from others. There is a huge amount of expertise across the public sector that we can draw on.”
A similar message came from Meeta Luthra, head and policy and engagement for the Common Technology Services stream at GDS. She highlighted its work in developing blueprints for various products, saying that the first on secure emails has just been published, a handful of others are in draft and that there will be more to come.
The first one provides a guide to policy, specifications, a compliance tool and a guide to implementation. Luthra called for feedback on the various blueprints being developed under the programme.
“The idea for all of the products we develop it should be easy to understand and implement and then you are compliant,” she said. “We’re really interested in hearing your feedback on this, whether it makes sense and if you have questions.”
She added: “Our scope has been for central government – that’s what we’ve got funding for – but we need to make sure that local authorities can use what we do.”