Written evidence submitted by Open Source
Consortium (BS 82)|
A submission from the Open Source Consortium (OSC)
a UK trade association for SME suppliers of services based on
Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) run by volunteers seeking
to promote the advantages of open standards and FOSS in an information
society and knowledge economy.
1. Big Society comes about when government re-profiles
its activities more closely to the essential roles of the state.
2. This creates challenges arising from "doing
nothing" which can be more difficult to defend than "doing
something" particularly if society has been encouraged to
accept the idea that government can always do something.
3. The introduction of contestability and choice
into public service provision can assist the re-profiling.
4. A bigger society is what happened when government
re-profiles its activities so that it becomes closer to a platform
rather than a provider.
5. An over active public sector can too easily
displace other initiatives (either conventional commercial activity
or gift economy (including charitable and voluntary) activity,
and so destroy or disguise the signals arising in society about
what needs to be done and perhaps more importantly what doesn't
need to be done.
6. In a recent radio programme
a former CEO was succinct in describing the continual challenges
faced by an organisation driven by customer choice rather than
taxes and compulsion:
"It's customers that make Tesco a success and
it's customers that can break Tesco. Customers exercise choice
every day. When they don't like Tesco they won't be in there."
7. Even apparently successful government activity
is not an indicator that big government is necessary unless it
is capable of surviving being contested by alternatives.,,
8. Government may only spend money that it can
justify raising through tax and borrowing. However, the unique
position of government to raise revenue must be accompanied by
clear justification for activities beyond the basic functions
of the State to protect its citizens. It must minimise the distorting
effects of dead-weight costs of intervention, particularly in
matters of service provision.
9. The economic case for "doing something"
must be preceded by a rigorous analysis of "doing nothing"
(ref 4 ibid).
10. Charities and voluntary bodies exist because
committed organisations and individuals identify a need they consider
requires addressing. However, if government funds these activities
in a manner where effectively, charitable and voluntary bodies
become service arms of the state, then these groups can lose their
customer/client focus and substitute instead the survival of the
organisation as the meta-goal with possible reductions in overall
11. Charitable income and voluntary labour by
its very nature has been freely given to an organisation. The
donor of such time or money has taken a decision to forgo other
activity or consumption in order to further the aims and objectives
the charity/voluntary body.
12. In the same way that a customer exercises
choice, continued donations of time or money are a signal that
the charity/voluntary bodies continue to meet their implicit as
well as explicit objectives.
13. The embedded localism will contain tacit
and implicit knowledge that cannot be matched by central initiatives.
This localism might be the basis of a business case for tranches
of money, but it should also be able to provide (and require)
an evidence based justification for public funds. And any funding
should be provided with the words of Sir Terry Leahy in mind:
even the recipients of charity should not be perceived as a passive
14. Such localism will lead to differing profiles
of activity which could easily be re-badged as a post-code lottery
by those seeking to justify state provision possibly in the cause
of no losers but ultimately creating losers at the expense of
dead-weight loss to the economy and society.
15. The biggest challenge will be the apparent
loss of control. Of course it is commonplace that the levers of
control are illusionary but it is always possible to create an
initiative. The difficulties can be quite challenging. The discussion
is old news but recently resurfaced
and is another example of the difficulty of government doing nothing.
No-one uses a search engine they do not trust and trust is created
by experience and outcomes.
16. It is a challenge to enable rather than "do"
and as good a metaphor as any is provided by the beekeeper
model of engagement with the FOSS developer community. Try as
hard as they might, beekeepers cannot make honey:
"The Bee Keeper creates an environment that
is attractive for bees: accommodation and a natural, food-rich
habitat. The bees do what they do naturally and make honeycombs.
The Bee Keeper sells the honey and bees-wax to his customers and
uses the money to grow his bee farm."
17. The model proposed is not so different from
the decisions over the years to privatise various parts of the
public sector. The essential characteristic that these employee-owned
public service co-operatives is that they must be able to fail
and others must be free to contest the market (references 4, 5
18. The "spectre" of provision failure
in such cases is overcome by plurality of customer channel (customer
choice) and not by gold-plating a single point of failure
(also refs 4, 5, 6 ibid).
19. Even in circumstances where it was once thought
necessary to intervene, circumstances change and a government
should be capable of stopping doing things it previously thought
necessary. For example immediately after World War Two all political
parties campaigned on a promise to control the food supply chain.
It is difficult to imagine today any political party campaigning
to take control of supermarkets.
20. The governance and accountability issues
were addressed in the Cabinet Office consultation document (ref
21. By enabling contestability and (coining a
phrase from the PASC public hearing 16 March 2011) pay-as-you-go
governance and accountability is driven by choice in the big society.
22. The externally facing issues have been addressed
by the answers to the forgoing questions. The internally facing
issues will be ones of organisational design and development for
a civil service with a reduced role in delivery.
23. Local Authorities are already more directly
accountable than central Government departments. Local initiatives
should be driven by local accountability and local funding.
24. Give users choice not voice. It is not simply
a case of demanding "Swedish levels of public services with
American taxation levels"
it is about user control enabling allocation of resources. One
might choose to buy a cheese sandwich from a supermarket shelf,
from a cafe or from a hotel lounge; each correspondingly more
expensive. Fundamentally it is still a cheese sandwich, and the
additional "features" are a matter of personal choice.
25. The metaphorical equivalent of the cheese
sandwich might still be the role of government; the provision
of the customer channel need not be and is the best way for making
sure that we don't get "American levels of public services
with Swedish taxation levels".
Appendix (already published
as part of PASC inquiry into Government IT).
153 Coase's Penguin http://www.benkler.org/CoasesPenguin.html Back
Homesteading the Noosphere http://catb.org/~esr/writings/homesteading/homesteading/ Back
Mr Tesco-The Legacy of Terry Leahy, BBC Radio 4, 12 March 2011 Back
Policy framework for a mixed economy in the supply of e-government
services, Cabinet Office, May 2003, available from http://www.epractice.eu/en/library/281283 Back
A fair field and no favours-competitive neutrality in UK public
service markets, CBI Policy Brief, January 2006 available from
Streamlining Shopping, History Today, November 2002-History Today
Ltd, www.historytoday.com Back
Martin Rice, Erudine, PASC Inquiry into government IT, public
hearing 16 March 2011 Back
User comment on article http://www.taxpayersalliance.com/waste/2011/02/war-nonjobs.html Back