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Addressing citizens’ digital needs: why we should see this as an opportunity

Guest blog by Billy D’Arcy, managing director for O2’s Public Sector Business

The provision of government online services remains high on the government’s agenda, with the Conservative administration continuing its investment in adapting the way the public sector is engaging with citizens in our digital age. 

This is very encouraging, not least because research recently commissioned by O2 shows that there’s a real opportunity for the UK’s public sector to be doing more to meet citizens’ digital needs, in order to create a more efficient, engaged and cost-effective community.1 

According to the research, only a fifth of us are currently using digital services – such as apps and websites – to carry out straightforward tasks like contacting our local authority or paying for public services like council tax. Meanwhile, less than one in 10 of us use digital services to report a crime or incident. 

Now, compare this to the private sector, where we’ve seen that digital is increasingly at the heart of businesses’ consumer engagement strategies. When it comes to banking, for example, the research shows that 62% of consumers regularly use apps and websites to check their bank balance or make online transactions, while in the retail sector over half (52%) of consumers are now using some kind of technology when shopping in stores. 

That’s not to say, however, that the appetite from the public sector to invest in digital isn’t there. Some organisations are already using digital strategies to connect and equip frontline staff, save time and engage with citizens. 

We worked with police forces in Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, for instance, to implement a mobile data project which spans the three police forces, while equipping both the front line and back office staff with the latest 4G technology. This has allowed front line officers to file reports on the go, removing the need to travel to and from the office and enabling the force to save both time and money.  

Elsewhere, other organisations are seeing the benefits of digitising their platforms to target and engage otherwise hard-to-reach demographics. For instance, Reading Borough Council recently created an app specifically for young people, to help those not in education, employment or training find work in their local area. The app offers advice and support on volunteering, mentoring, training and employment and – crucially – gamifies the whole process so that young people are motivated to engage with it. 

Clearly, then, there is a huge opportunity for the public sector to build on this momentum by investing in digital and tackling the ‘digital deficit’ which many UK public services are facing. 

By giving public sector workers access to the latest digital technology, we can ensure that citizens are being served by the government in the best possible way. With the new government in power, there is now a brilliant opportunity for the UK to invest in services which make it as straightforward as possible for citizens to connect with local and national government, so that together we can create a more productive public sector workforce and a more engaged British public. 


  1. The research was conducted by YouGov using a quantitative online methodology. The total sample size was 3,638 – 1,020 senior managers (middle managers and above, working in organisations with a minimum of 250 UK employees in particular sectors), 542 employees (working in organisations with a minimum of 250 UK employees in particular sectors), and a nationally representative sample of 2,076 consumers (18+). Fieldwork was undertaken between 19th and 25th March 2015.


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