Gordon Brown launches big shift to open gov data and broadband but where's the detail?

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The British Government, faced with an upcoming general election in which policy toward the internet, digital inclusion of the masses and how government IT interfaces with the private sector will all come into play, has rolled out the big guns in the shape of the Prime Minister and a clutch of ministers and advisers today.

In a speech in London, billed as “Building Britain’s Digital Future”, Gordon Brown ranged over a wide range of topics and mentioned all the buzz phrases his policy advisors could cram into one speech including the “semantic web” and the “web of linked data”. There were the obligatory mentions of YouTube and Twitter of course.

Here are the highlights:

• What’s the opportunity for entrepreneurs? Access to greater government data for new services. There will be a new wave of public/private back office companies linked by this data, said Brown.

• Brown promised what he called “super fast broadband” for 100% of the country by 2020 (there’s some suggestion that this amounts to 1MB which cant be right, surely…?). However it’s worth noting that in their “technology manifesto”, the Tories have pledged similar move and also to publish large amounts of government data and contracts. It’s hard to see the difference here.

• Digital Minister Stephen Timms promised a new replacement clause during the Commons stage of the Digital Economy Bill in response to the wave of opposition about Clause 18 which leads to disconnection after accusation currently. He added that there will be a right of appeal on disconnection and hopes “technical measures ” won’t be needed. Thumbscrews maybe?

• There will be a £30m fund to create the Institute of Web Science headed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Prof. Nigel Shadwell. The former was not present but latter said the Institute would bring together different disciplines to study the web, not just technology but legal and economic aspects. It will create a “modern Domesday book for the 21st century” said Brown – in other words a list of all the data held by government which can be released. We’re wondering if the US has anything like this?

• “MyGov” will be a personalised portal for people to access government services like pensions/tax benefits, doctors appointment, talking to teachers or getting a new passport or driving license. There were no details about how authorisation and ID takes place as yet and a question from the audience about whether it would be based on ID cards didn’t get a full answer other than that authorisation would be similar to how people already buy things online with their credit card.

• Advisor on the UK’s Digital Inclusion push Martha Lane Fox has a new job – leading a digital public services unit. Here’s the press-friendly catchphrase from the PM: “The digital net will be the new public safety net”.

• Of course much of this is about saving money in hard times. Brown quoted PwC estimates which say government can save £900m by getting more people to use public services online. There would be some £11bn of savings to the public finances through using the web, which is part of £20bn of savings in the government budget, said Brown. QED.

• There will be an new iPhone app released to allow people to interact with Number 10 and get information on government news. It’s not to be confused with an unofficial iPhone app that costs £1.19. The free/official app will be coming soon.

• They predict £4bn in backoffice savings by using new web technologies

• Their new approach will mean a less centralised approach to government because obviously civil servants suddenly don’t have all be in London.

• The PM made the point that “Do you need more independent whitehall departments when you can have a web platform which cuts across boundaries”

• There wil be a 20% reduction in senior civil service paybill as a result of these moves

• There were a few platitudes about giving the public greater influence over policy making using the Web. Point in case, there have been 70,000 petitions on the Number 10 site since 2006 and the Gov has replied to 8m people.

• Loads of Twitter, Flickr, Youtube stats (numbers of tweets and videos watched).

• Brown said: “I predict education will be our biggest export 10 years from now.”

Reactions so far:

• Executive director Jim Killock told the BBC: “Online government is a great idea, but Labour cannot say people will depend on online government, and simultaneously plan to disconnect families after allegations of minor copyright offenses.”

• RT @Documentally: Brown promises super fast broadband by 2020!! The rest of the world will have implants by then you fool.. #digitalbritain

Picture: @Thayer

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