Brighton and East Sussex councils have signed a £14 million deal for a shared public services network (PSN) known as LINK, which will provide the cornerstone for a range of future shared services and collaboration.

The seven-year contact has been awarded to network integrator MDNX – which builds networks for its customers by acquiring and integrating infrastructure from a range of telcos, including BT, Cable & Wireless and Virgin Media – through the PSN connectivity framework.

MDNX will build the 10Gbps network by selecting the optimum infrastructure provider and technology option for each location and then iterating over time, integrating services such as high-speed broadband, wireless technologies and 4G as they become available.

“Using an integrator gives us the flexibility to switch to new technology and new carrier services as they become available and as our needs evolve,” said Tony Summers, CIO at East Sussex County Council (ESCC).

“This approach lets us build a relationship with a supplier partner, without being tied to a fixed solution, which is vital in the dynamic environment we face.”

The secure carrier-grade core will run multi-protocol label switching (MPLS). As well as connecting the two council authorities, the network will serve more than 100 other public sector organisations, including emergency services, schools, libraries, health organisations and members of the voluntary sector.

These partners have been closely involved in designing the infrastructure, to ensure that the network meets their current and future needs.

For example, the police service requires IL3-level security, whereas the local authorities do not have such a high requirement, but the LINK network design means that intelligence can be shared securely according to a common set of standards.

Allowing health workers to share “soft intelligence” about vulerable people with social workers in the local authority could also help to break down organisational boundaries that traditionally create silos, enabling them to provide targeted care.

“We are very much seeing the network as a building block for further collaboration, future shared services and shaping public service delivery to be much more collaborative going forward,” said Paul Colbran, CIO at Brighton and Hove City Council (B&HCC).

“The main point is the governance for the programme is across all of Sussex, so it's not two authorities going out and rail-roading the process, it's very very participative, and we wouldn't have got where we got without everybody else contributing to that effort.”

LINK will deliver 20 percent savings over what the councils would have paid if they had built separate networks, according to Colbran.

As well as reducing procurement costs and achieving economies of scale, LINK provides a platform for delivering further savings through collaboration. The first project will be to provide voice telephony services, but the PSN could also be used to merge data centres in the future, and enable access to the cloud services.

Both Brighton and Sussex are part of a regional partnership of local authorities called South East Seven, and East Sussex is already using some of Surrey council's data centre capacity to host its SAP system. Ultimately, the two councils are looking to merge their SAP systems and create one system to support both councils.

“It's that sort of partnership that being on a common network enables,” said Summers.

If all of the other public sector bodies on the framework join the PSN, the value of the contract could rise to £30 million. However, this will depend on whether they are locked into existing network contracts, and whether it makes economic sense for them to join.

Sussex is not the first county where councils have joined forces to launch a shared services PSN. Last year a group of local authorities in Norfolk chose Claranet to provide a private MPLS-based network. Surrey, Essex and Hampshire and Kent County Councils are also working on similar projects.

The PSN is core to the central government’s ICT Strategy and the Cabinet Office hopes that in three years’ time 80 percent of its PC-based staff (four million users) will be on the network.