The Leader of Kent’s Sevenoaks District Council has said that local authorities “should be abandoning activities that don’t make life better for our residents and customers” in his keynote address to PSE365’s Digital Transformation: Transforming the Public Sector event.
Councillor Peter Fleming, who is also the council’s Portfolio Holder for Improvement and Innovation, as well as the Chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Improvement and Innovation Board said that councils need to start asking ‘what if?’.
He spoke of digital changes in the past 10 to 15 years, including mentioning modern digitally savvy businesses that are now part of our daily lives and said that council’s need to “get away from fearing failure” in order to fully embrace technology, as well as learning how to “fail fast and cheaply”.
Calling for the public sector to celebrate difference, he said a question that local authorities need to ask themselves is ‘why do we do it?’ and reminded the audience that “dreams don’t work unless you do”.
He also said that councils need to move away from binary solutions and build for needs, not for want, whilst providing multiple services amongst various platforms.
In his address, he said that the move towards better digital services would need strong leadership both from a political viewpoint, but also managerially and said that councils needed cultural changes from both members and officers, saying that this would be achieved through a team approach taking risks.
Speaking of the Covid-19 pandemic, he said that the past year has been a “huge opportunity, but hugely difficulty” and that employees are calling for change in their work-life balance.
He said that an amount of flexibility will be expected, especially from office based staff moving forward and said that with new generations coming forward in the workplace, public sector organisations need to use platforms to attract new employees.
Acknowledging that Covid-19 has changed the way customer services are delivered in the public sector, he said it has raised the question if the traditional nine to five structure works for residents and for staff.
With some councils going towards a ‘digital only’ approach, Councillor Fleming said he believes that they should continue to provide face-to-face, voice-to-voice, people-to-people services and offer various services in a ‘golden conversation’.
In terms of implementing digital services within local authorities, he said that they should be built at a human scale and “start with the end user, rather than end with them”, while ensuring that staff get the skills they need and that connected data becomes useable across council services.
At the end of his speech, Councillor Fleming said that councils can build successful digital systems by asking questions, engaging with people, being forward thinking and by being a bit revolutionary.