2010. március 21., vasárnap

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.”

“I am calling on the Mayor to develop an open source action plan for each of the functional bodies in the GLA for which is he responsible,” he added. “The GLA has led the way with the new London Datastore and the website based on Drupal. Now it’s time he made the rest of the GLA family follow.”

Boris Johnson defends GLA’s open source record

Mayor Boris Johnson responded with the claim that Transport for London and the Core GLA are currently leading the way in the adoption of open source technology in Europe, and continue to look for new ways to integrate and invest in open source software.

He acknowledged that the London Development Agency, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) were trailing in their implementation of open source technology – but stressed that, despite this, all three bodies were fully committed to adopting open source solutions under the right circumstances.

The LFEPA is constrained by the need to consider the safety implications of integrating open source software into its infrastructure, said the Mayor: “LFEPA systems such as mobilising, HR and Finance rely upon a very high degree of integration,” he said. “There will no doubt be opportunities for the introduction of open source software in the future and consideration of such will become a business as usual activity.”

Open source activists agreed with the Mayor, saying that in fact the GLA has done better than most organisations in adopting open source.

“Of course there is room for improvement, but with huge swathes of the UK public sector using no open source whatsoever [the GLA is] a curious and non-obvious target,” said Mark Taylor, chief executive officer of open source consultants Sirius Corporation and founder of the Open Source Consortium in an email to eWeek Europe. “The lack of clarity, sincerity or guidance from the current government about its ‘open source action plan’ is a far better target, a point which appears not to be lost on the Mayor given his answer.”

“I am personally aware of some great policy work that the Greens have done around Open Source, Open Standards and Open Data, but in my opinion this attack is way off base,” he added.

In June last year, it was found that the UK was still lagging behind the rest of Europe when it came to open source, even though the recession has increased pressure for its adoption.

But Darren Johnson reiterated his criticism: “The basic point is that it was six years ago that the Cabinet Office published its first action plan and saying there are still plans ‘in the pipeline’ isn’t good enough,” he said. “It is clear that nothing is likely to happen without some major push towards progress”.
“We support open source development in Green Party policy as part of the promotion and support of culture and innovation. We’ve also said we want all public sector publications to be made available free to all in open standard formats. This would essentially mean the Crown Copyright would cease to exist.”

Source: eWeekEurope