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Maude: New 'technical standards' for Government documents offer opportunities to SMEs

The Government is to introduce new "technical standards for document formats" in an effort to cut down on its reliance on software provided by only a select number of suppliers.

In a speech in London Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said the move would open up the Government software market to a greater number of providers.

"Technical standards for document formats may not sound like the first shot in a revolution," Maude said, according to a report by the Guardian and confirmed by the Cabinet Office. "But be in no doubt: the adoption of compulsory standards in Government threatens to break open Whitehall's lock-in to proprietary formats. In turn we will open the door for a host of other software providers."

Maude said that a "tiny oligopoly" dominates the market for the supply of software to Government departments and that he wants to break the existing reliance on particular brands.

"The software we use in Government is still supplied by just a few large companies," Maude said. "I want to see a greater range of software used, so civil servants have access to the information they need and can get their work done without having to buy a particular brand of software."

"In the first instance, this will help departments to do something as simple as share documents with each other more easily. But it will also make it easier for the public to use and share Government information. So we have been talking to users about the problems they face when they read or work with our documents – and we have been inviting ideas from experts on how to solve these challenges," he added.

In his speech Maude also claimed that the Government's drive to digitise a number of public services is helping it meet its objective of delivering £1.2 billion in digital efficiencies over the course of this Parliament.

Among the 25 digital projects currently on the Government's agenda is the digitising of individuals' driving records, aiding employers to conduct a criminal records check on prospective new employees through a new online system, and enabling benefits claimants to make applications under the new Universal Credit scheme. 

"Digitising public services is all part of our long-term economic plan to save hard-working taxpayers’ money and to give people peace of mind through high-quality public services which they can use when and where it suits them," Maude said.

Mike Bracken, executive director of the Government Digital Service, added: "A year ago we gave ourselves 400 days to transform 25 of the most significant services in Government. Our strategy is delivery and, 200 days in, we’re delivering. We have great services up and running, most in beta, some of it live. Departments are rapidly getting the skills and resources they need to deliver digital services that rival the best in the world. We’re making digital public services as easy and convenient as online banking or booking a ticket online. Digital by default is becoming reality right across Government."

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