Devolved Digital Delivery
Devolved Digital Delivery

Technology has always played a pivotal role in the way local government manages its business. But as councils face the twin challenges of reduced funding and increased demand, they need to explore new ways of utilising digital tools and approaches to deliver more efficient services.

Cllr Richard Stay, Chairman of the Improvement and Efficiency Panel at the East of England Local Government Association, looks at how devolved and local public services can take advantage of digital technologies to stimulate and enable innovation and new ways of working.

We now live in a digitally enabled world – one of apps, cloud computing, and digitally networked communities.

Councils are starting to grasp the opportunities this brings and are coming together with partners to explore options and find better – and faster – ways to connect with the public and deliver services. 

New ways of working are being enabled that have the potential to transform the way councils function. 

With this in mind, experts from Microsoft, Eastern Academic Health Science Network and Capgemini were invited to join forces with the East of England LGA to showcase and examine how digital approaches and technologies offer the opportunity to re-shape public services and fundamentally shift relationships with citizens and communities.

The event – called Transform, Engage, Accelerate – held on 10 March, was organised for senior leaders across the public sector by the East of England LGA.

Cutting edge technological advances, exhibited at the event, could see public services receive a 21st century makeover allowing them to be faster and more effective, driving improvements in efficiency and productivity and developing new forms of self-service and engagement.

Why change?

Digital and networked technologies are transforming our society as a whole.

So much so that 79% of the UK population is now using the internet. 

And we realize that if our communities are now living in a digital and networked age, so must we.

Councils and their partners must engage with the strategic issues that this brings and seize the opportunity to use digital to support and shape public service transformation proactively. 

Using digital technologies will enable us to join up locally across the public sector to adopt a more coherent approach to the needs of our citizens and communities. 

This will enable us to manage demand, provide more personalised and targeted services, and deliver better value across the sector.

What could be offered?

Here are some ways digital technologies can help improve public service delivery:

  • The use of predictive data insight and open data can help us to drive out costs between public services and allow clearer analysis of how to spend money efficiently, and preventively.
  • Social media is increasingly allowing us to play a leadership role in our communities enabling us to move from broadcast to more conversational communications to improve services through co-production, collaboration and challenge.
  • Providing citizens capable of self-serving with the means to do so will ensure that available resources are channelled to those in need of support.
  • Developing integrated IT systems will remove duplication of activity across the public sector, for example using technology to get a crosscutting view of how public services support vulnerable families.
  • Reducing costs for ICT - for instance through shared service arrangements, collaborative procurement and better management of contracts, as well as by permitting staff to use their own devices.

Successes so far

Recent work in the East of England has seen councils take forward some of these technological advances to meet the challenges ahead.  Here are a few examples:

Counter Fraud – The East of England LGA is currently supporting a data-matching and compliance project between all the local authorities in Essex.  Its aim is to identify fraud and error primarily among people claiming single person discounts and empty home discounts on their Council Tax.  These discounts reduce Council Tax bills by over £170m per year across Essex.  The partnership intends to share a variety of data sets such as Council Tax, Benefits, Blue Badge, Education, Taxi Licensing, Planning and Building Control on a monthly basis to identify mis-matches between the stated occupants of a property.   

Car Parking – As part of Great Yarmouth Borough Council Transformation Programme, the Council faced the challenge of raising their car parking fees to bring them in line with similar authorities, alongside making sure that the tourist economy was not being subsidised. To address residents concerns about fee increases it was agreed an incentive for residents needed to be developed.  The incentive subsequently agreed is known as a Residents Advantage Card. This card will initially allow local residents parking reductions. Many more incentives across the Borough for these residents are being considered. By obtaining a card, residents details are being captured online as part of the Councils Digital by Design programme, and will help develop and inform the individual ‘My Account’ facility.

Mindings – Working with Cambridgeshire County Council and Central Bedfordshire Council we have supported the development of Mindings.  Described as ‘Facebook for the technology shy’, Mindings is an app operating via the internet on ‘tablet’ devices and is aimed at socially isolated members of the community to help them stay independent for longer. 

Networked Councillor - Our Networked Councillor programme, developed with Public-i, introduces elected members to the opportunities digital and the networked society to re-shape the relationship between our citizens, communities and local government.  The approach has been recently piloted with Suffolk and Cambridgeshire authorities.

The need for digital leadership

Digital works best when it is deeply embedded in organisational culture. 

Innovations need to be part of wider systemic change, with digital technologies and approaches used as a key enabler in transforming the approach to delivering public services in a whole locality, rather than as single strand of activity.

Taking on this challenge will require public sector leaders to develop new skills and understandings, not least in keeping abreast of new developments. 

We need our public sector leaders to invest in digital technology and embrace the capacity to change, despite the challenging financial conditions. 

The continuing cuts to finances and increasing levels of demand provide a pressing need to respond and adapt in what is a rapidly changing world.

The effective implementation and utilisation of technology and digital approaches will give public services the ability to deal with these challenges more effectively. 

Now is the time for us to fully capitalise on the potential of digital transformation.

The East of England LGA will continue to work with public sector partners to address the barriers and blockers to progress. 

And our technology event is the next step.

The conference was held on March 10 at Rowley Mile Conference Centre, Newmarket Racecourse.

Further details about the conference, including access to all the presentations can be found at http://eelga.gov.uk/events/transform-engage-accelerate/

 As featured in the MJ

Now is the time for us to fully capitalise on the potential of digital transformation.

Cllr Richard Stay, Chairman - Improvement and Efficiency Panel