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21.04.17

LGiU: Councillors not ‘digital dinosaurs’ but skills gap still an issue

Councillors across the country are not “digital dinosaurs” and generally hold strong and positive views about technology and data, a new report has announced.

The ‘Start of the possible’ research, conducted by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), asked 800 locally-elected council representatives 17 open and closed questions on their perception and attitude to technology and data, and found that council members were well versed in the use of digital technology and its potential for growth in their authority.

However, the findings also found that the issue of digital exclusion was still ripe in many areas, and that the divide in digital skills was an issue for many in leadership positions.  

Despite this, the report did point to a clear backing for digital being a key part of local government pushing for further devolution, and a desire from councillors to learn more about technology and transformation.

Cllr Theo Blackwell, author of the report and a Camden councillor, said: “Successful digital transformation requires redesign on every level – workforce, customer service, process, governance and technology – to make public services faster at doing things, more adaptable, able to share more information and do so securely.

“For this to happen we need to support digital leadership right across our cities and counties in order to make public services more effective and make a difference to the people and communities they represent.”

Cllr Blackwell also added that now was the time to translate the report’s findings into action and use digital to develop authorities and push devolution.  

“This research shows that the vast majority of councillors are not “digital dinosaurs”, but hold positive views about the application of technology to public services and how councils should work together and share data.

“There is a good foundation built by those leading councils who have set out bold digital plans,” he said. “There is now a need for proper co-ordination between authorities supported by a new deal with Whitehall.”

And chief executive of LGiU Jonathan Carr-West said that the shift to digital in local government and public services was a subject that had been covered extensively, and that the report highlighted a thirst for councillors to utilise the potential digital offers.

“Such a shift represents an opportunity, almost uniquely, to drive down costs while simultaneously improving outcomes,” he said.

“But that’s not just a question of doing the same things better online, it’s about using digital as a way of thinking and connecting, of driving a cultural and relational attitude that changes how we think about what local government does and how it interacts with the communities it serves.”

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