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It’s time to raise the bar on what’s expected of digital partners

We’re at a turning point.

After all the talk and ambition around levelling up the UK, we’re now starting to see things heading in the right direction.

The government has launched the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). The purpose is to spread opportunity around the country. Regenerating high streets, helping more people into jobs, reviving communities.

The government’s aim is to deliver investment where it’s needed – where it can make the most impact on improving public life and addressing geographical disparities. While there are questions around whether the fund can match the scale of what’s needed, every investment will make a difference.

But local leaders rightly recognise that more will have to be done, beyond the funds being made available, if ‘levelling up’ is to live up to its promise.

The forecast for today’s local authorities is one of new expectations – from citizens to public sector employees, local business communities to social care organisations.

And there will be mounting spending pressures. The delivery of local services is set to cost at least £8bn more by 2024, according to the Local Government Association. And the most vulnerable will feel the brunt of this.

Already, nearly 9,000 people in England are waiting for home care services, due to staffing shortages, while public concern continues to grow around the deepening issue of digital inequality.

There are hopeful signs for what we can achieve. By 2030, domestic public investment in research and development will increase by at least 40% across the UK’s regions and nations. And the government aims to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long-term.

Together, this will go towards improving everything from literacy levels to 5G access and transport systems.

But digital transformation isn’t easy. Expectations for the levelling up plans, and on local authorities, are high. The weight of these expectations shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of the public sector alone.

Public and private organisations will need to work together to keep challenging how we think in new ways and do things differently, for the benefit of the public. And then share these gains across the UK’s society and economy.

Raising the bar on expectations

During this pandemic, we’ve seen great progress. Real steps forward were made digitally.

But we’ve also understood the importance of being patient. We’ve recognised the pressures faced by our nation’s key workers and frontline public services. Everyone was doing their best to make the right changes happen, in incredible circumstances.

Now we’ve seen what’s possible, expectations have been raised. And we’re prepared to all play our part in that, compromising and taking on more where needed. Ambitious, and necessary, goals are not in short supply – reducing digital poverty, attracting new talent to the area, and tackling homelessness, to name just a few.

Now, additional powers mean local authorities have the opportunity to meet, and exceed, these expectations.

Digital transformation is a major part of the solution. It can offer access to online services, improved digital skills training, increased local employment options – and potentially so much more.

But to do transformation right, organisations expect their digital partners to be more than just a service provider.

They need true partnership, where there is shared vision and commitment to achieving end goals of better citizen experience and improved communities.

Take the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and its Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN), a prime example of where a local authority has challenged its partner, Virgin Media Business, to deliver value beyond digital infrastructure.

The GMCA team made social value a central part of the tender process – setting clear goals around local employment, digital skills, and apprenticeship opportunities for Greater Manchester.

The foundations for lasting positive change were laid, 2,700km of new fibre optic broadband infrastructure was being laid. The GMCA called on Virgin Media Business to help create 50 new apprenticeships, provide free connectivity to homeless shelters, charities and communities, give 567 school children digital kits, and provide thousands of hours of volunteering.

And in doing this, the GMCA has set a new standard not only for how the public and private sector should work together, but also how a service provider should support local authorities at a scale we’ve never seen in the UK before.

Local authorities still face issues. But by working hand-in-hand with central government and the right service providers, these organisations can continue to improve citizen experiences. Ensuring nobody is left behind on the digital transformation journey.

Going beyond ‘good enough’, to achieve better outcomes

In a fast-moving, ever-changing landscape, local authorities must look further into the horizon to make sure that major investments like digital are focused on the bigger transformational picture.

They need to focus on specific outcomes that create better experiences for citizens and employees.

If members of the public aren’t able to get what they need most from public services, and an organisation is falling short of it goals, then that just isn’t good enough.

We’re all missing out on the promise of digital transformation if that’s the case.

Because of this, it’s no longer acceptable for a service provider to just be ‘good enough’.

Virgin Media O2 Business was created to reimagine connectivity and upgrade the UK. We’re doing things differently, starting by introducing our new Success Agreement – which goes above and beyond the usual Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to create an ongoing commitment to customer success.

So, in addition to SLAs based on product/service performance measures, we’ll agree on specific outcomes that the organisation is trying to achieve from the outset.

This could range from improving employee and citizen experience, increasing productivity, or improving the digital delivery of services.

In today’s new era, citizens expect organisations to have a genuine impact on our environment and wellbeing. We know that the end goal isn’t technology – it’s what that technology, underpinned by connectivity, can help people achieve.

And by sharing the risk as well as the reward, and joining customers on their journey, a true digital partner will help local authorities tackle some of the UK’s most crucial challenges.

It’s time to expect more. Find out more about how our Success Agreement can help your organisation achieve its goals on our website.

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