London Government Accused Of Open Source Inaction

Mayor Boris Johnson has faced Green Party criticism of his open source commitment – but activists say the real problem is with central government

A Green Party representative has accused the London government of failing to fully exploit open source software, but activists say the Greater London Authority (GLA) is doing well… at least compared to central government.

Despite a central government commitment to use open source, London’s local government has too many plans “in the pipeline” and not enough actually delivered, said Darren Johnson, a Green Party member of the GLA: “It is clear that nothing is likely to happen without some major push towards progress”.

Toothless government open source policy?

The UK government promised to use open source where it gives best value for money to the taxpayer, in its open source action plan (PDF), first published 2004 and updated in 2009 with a promise that open source could save the country £600 million. The adoption of open source solutions is also part of the government’s ICT Strategy, announced in January, which ties IT spending to commitments to halve the public deficit by 2014.

Despite this, the policy has been criticised as toothless by open source vendors, comparing it with policies in other countries such as Hungary – which allocates a proportion of the IT budget to open source.

“The age of open source is dawning and government has embraced it, becoming more innovative, agile and cost-effective,” wrote Angela Smith, Minister of State for the Cabinet Officet, in the foreword to the action plan. “We want to encourage innovation – inside government by encouraging open source thinking, and outside by helping to develop a vibrant market.”

Rather than specify an open source budget, the Minister wants fair competition: “While we have always respected the view that governments should favour open source on principle, we have always tempered our approach to guarantee best value for the taxpayer.” The government’s plans for future development therefore involve ensuring that there is “an effective ‘level playing field’ between open source and proprietary software”.

The Green Party’s Darren Johnson says that, although the Authority has made significant use of open source solutions for its websites and back office infrastructure, Transport for London and the London Fire and Emergency Planning services have only made very small steps, and the London Development Agency has not implemented any open source software at all.

“If the Mayor wants efficiency savings to balance the budget and avoid frontline cuts, he should be doing more to promote open source solutions,” said Johnson. “Free and open source software could reduce long-term costs significantly, and promote a spirit of co-operation and collaboration within London government.”

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