The UK government is backing another new "initiative" to promote the use of open-source software in the public sector.

The Open Source Academy initiative is an umbrella for a number of projects hoping to encourage the use of open-source software in local authorities. It also has the laudable aim of creating a national community of software developers who can collaborate on centralized software projects.

The Open Source Academy will be funded by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) under its e-Innovations investment program. And although the final details are still to be decided, it will formally launch by the end of the month.

The program is expected to last for about 10 months. Should it prove successful, its funding could be extended or other backing sought. However, on the basis of previous identical efforts over the past three years, it is unlikely to have any real impact, particularly with Bill Gates and Microsoft's close association with the UK government.

The Open Source Academy includes the local councils in Bristol, Cheshire, Birmingham and Shepway as well as the National Computing Centre (NCC), the University of Kent, the Institute of IT Training, OpenForum Europe, the Open Source Consortium and Socitm, the professional association for public sector IT managers.

Participants are hoping that the program will help the UK government catch up with the rest of Europe in implementing open-source software. A Dutch study published in January by the Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology found that 32 percent of local authorities in the UK use open-source software, compared with 71 percent in France, 68 percent in Germany and 55 percent in the Netherlands.

Accenture's annual e-government survey, published today, also paints a bleak picture, with the UK government falling again in the world league to the 10th spot from 6th in 2002 and 8th in 2003.