Uniquepress

Why can’t local government and open source be friends?

You have to love the freedom of Records act. Mainly its capacity to expose, in stark phrases, pretty how badly neighborhood government can screw up.

Sure, Birmingham Town Council, I’m afraid I am looking at you.

Heather Brooke, who kicked off the complete MP’s costs element, made an FOI request to Birmingham CC about a website it became constructing.

And what do ? The fee of the site went from a budgeted £580,000 in summer 2005 to, um, £2.8m with the aid of the brand new estimate.

It becomes additionally past due. That could have been induced via worries inside the council that it is probably the subject of ridicule; this not being helped through the truth that just when it changed into due to go live in March, someone spotted that it could not cope with pound or euro signs and symptoms, nor apostrophes or citation marks. (whilst the ten,000 pages have been migrated from the antique machine to the new one, the ones characters – and the one straight away following – were given deleted.)

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It is an ambitious project, essentially looking to knit 35 websites running under the council’s umbrella into an unmarried one. However, its prices ballooned madly.

You may now not recognise whether to snort or cry at this, though I believe the council tax payers of Birmingham have something else in mind involving pitchforks and flaming torches. Although the plan became for the web page to head live this week, it hasn’t.

It’d be fine to suppose that the failure to put in writing a specification in which non-alphanumeric characters are not acknowledged is a complete one-off in authorities. Alas, it is now not: as I found for myself a couple of years returned whilst the use of the Department of work and Pensions site, the trying out there had never considered (a) that someone would possibly get right of entry to it the use of some other device than one walking Home windows (b) that they may hit the “go back” key to create new paragraphs.

Hence, filling in a form with roughly 60 pages, pretty some of which required multi-paragraph answers, led to a confusing failure to work, no longer once But two times. It took lots of very lengthy and frustrating phone calls till the DWP people controlled to recreate the trouble. The personnel could not have been greater inclined to help, But their palms were tied by the truth that they hadn’t written the specification, and so needed to play detective to determine out what become incorrect.

But, the Birmingham case does appearance egregrious. And who is the associate constructing the website online? It seems to be a joint challenge among Birmingham CC and Capita – which has a long records of creating desirable money from primary and local authorities contracts. Capita runs the Tv Licensing scheme, it runs the congestion price gadget on behalf of Transport for London, and it additionally runs the training for some of nearby councils the usage of the “Voice Chance Analysis” machine – defined by means of one scientist as being “at the astrology end of the validity spectrum”, which hasn’t stopped the authorities spending extra than £2m on it. Particularly, the DWP has funded the device – at councils which include Birmingham. An outstanding coincidence, you will agree.

The trouble is that the website in no way stood a danger. Nobody seems to have stood up in an assembly and stated: “, there’s plenty of excellent open source content material control structures (CMS) accessible – there’s one called WordPress that is unfastened and eminently customisable.” This is atypical, as WordPress was to be had (and as solid as any CMS) in 2005, runs on MySQL and Php (which might be each unfastened merchandise used by a number of the most important organizations inside the global, which includes airlines and Yahoo). And there are pots of programmers round with MySQL and Personal home page talents.

Even when the task bumped into difficulty, in December 2007 (scroll down the timeline there) they nevertheless should have modified. WordPress became being followed more and more extensively in significant government: a growing variety of government departments use it for their blogs, along with Downing Street.

Why wasn’t it accurate sufficient for Birmingham? Plainly there’s a winning mindset in some components of local and critical government that thinks that in case you (definitely, taxpayers) aren’t paying thru the nostril, then you definitely’re no longer getting price for cash.

Now not real, of direction; ask Twitter, or Facebook, or Google, or any of those different massive web sites that depend on free software. (I as soon as asked Chris DiBona of Google how a great deal it would price to run the business enterprise on Windows instead of Linux. Heaps and Lots of stripped-down Computers… put the value at “masses of thousands and thousands” of greenbacks.)

It’s not to say that it is a horrific concept to have council web sites; it’s a superb concept, as Lincolnshire CC factors out:

If we became off our internet services… 177,000 visitors consistent with month (Can also 2009 figures) to our net website might discover no web website online.

If most effective 10% of those traffic have been to touch us by means of phone – say 17,000 – then we would incur an additional fee of approx £51,000 consistent with month (primarily based on Socitm‘s charges of telephone touch).