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Councils must become entirely ‘digital by default’ by 2020 – Nesta

Councils should become ‘digital by default’ by 2020, including by moving all transactional services online and fully digitising their back offices, a new Nesta report said today.

The report, ‘Connected Councils’, sets out a vision of local government in 2025, at which point local authorities should already be “lean, agile and data-driven”.

Similarly to tech companies, they should replace siloed services with multi-agency teams to ensure transactions can take place online, that two-dimensional websites are replaced with interactive platforms interconnected with apps and services, and that personalised content on local democracy, jobs and services can be streamed.

While local government has made huge strides in digitising transactions, most councils still have a long way to go to deliver “smooth, frictionless services” and back offices – which the report claims could help save almost £2bn a year. Socitm has also estimated that the average cost of digital transactions is 15p in comparison to telephone and face-to-face costs of £2.83 and £8.62 respectively.

Becoming ‘digital by default’ can also transform the way councils work internally, commission services and partners, identify and solve problems, attract talent and use public space.

In Greater Manchester, for example, the combined authority wants to establish a data-sharing authority to break down the barriers stopping public services from sharing information, ultimately capitalising on the challenges and opportunities existing in the region and helping allocate resources more effectively.

Today’s report also echoed previous recommendations from think tank Policy Exchange that councils should set up an Office of Data Analytics. These would be manned by small expert teams responsible for using public and privately held data to create “smarter and more productive” cities.

And although research from charity Age UK argued last year that digital services are not suitable for everyone, with many older people struggling to access vital support as a result of the online shift, Nesta argued councils should continue to invest in accessibility. This means providing both online and human support to help people use digital services in public spaces such as libraries and jobcentres.

Pathways between different services should also be seamless and jargon-free, Nesta said, and people with different digital needs must be “appropriately ‘triaged’”.

The innovation charity also laid out plans for the Cabinet Office to bring together “key local government actors to define, and continuously update, open standards for data” for the whole of the public sector.

Responding to the report, Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's improvement and innovation board, told PSE in a statement: “Councils need to fully utilise digital technology to help deliver more efficient services to manage rising demand and expectations from their residents.

“Councils have championed the use of new technology as it emerges and we have highlighted opportunities for central and local government to share digital platforms for common online transactions, such as payments, as part of joining up how we deliver citizen and business focused public services.

“We recently launched a blueprint for councils to allow them to maximise the use of IT to transform services for their residents and we will continue to offer to work with government to help co-design solutions that work effectively across the public sector and best respond to local needs.”


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