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Report of the Digital Government Review


Thinking Local by Energising Cities and Regions

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Introduction: common problems and local problems

Most public services are delivered at the local level.

We may renew our car tax once a year but our bins are collected every week or two; we are constantly making planning applications; our children go to school locally; and we use local roads and public transport every day.

Some local services are highly complex almost bespoke for each person’s needs: for example, housing support and social care. These complex services are often the most impactful, the ones that (if delivered well) can provide the biggest benefits to people and society. A local authority typically delivers these services in co-operation with multiple agencies: the NHS, the police, the private sector, social enterprises and the voluntary sector.

To the person or family unit that the public sector is serving this should just be a single, seamless service. Digital technology and service design, can simplify the complexity of the public sector and help to make these services people-centric, focused on their needs. But this is complex to do safely and apart from some stand out examples of good practice we are a long way short of realising the potential of digital services across the huge range of local government in the UK.

In many cases citizens can of course just get on with things themselves and use the power of consumer-facing digital services to create their own local information infrastructures that talk about local public services and public policy challenges. This can be seen in thousands of local websites, twitter feeds, Facebook pages and Tumblrs where people talk about the good and not so good aspects of the places in which they live or work. Smart local representatives and councils work with these online groups to elicit feedback and intelligence about local needs and service provision [114].

We see a spirit of optimism in the interest in new services and technologies, often called smart cities. These notionally offer the potential for great improvements but are in their early days, progress is sporadic and we are only just beginning to see tangible smart city deployments that impact real citizen’s daily lives. The most conspicuous are the many transport apps in London in particular where a real ecosystem of public data and private industry is developing.

Despite the spirit of optimism of smart cities overall in our work we detect concern that local government has not kept up with the very best practice of Government Digital Service (GDS). Despite the fact that local government has for many years delivered better high volume transactional services than central government.

We need to recognize that there is an urgent demand for more flexible and effective services at the level not simply of cities, but of local authorities – each facing unique challenges, but also representing immense opportunities for gain from improved support, guidance and sharing of digital tools and practices.

The ‘People Powered Public Services’ report by the Local Government Innovation Taskforce set out a radical plan for devolution of responsibility for services [115]. That report can see the potential for digital but acknowledges that local government doesn’t have as much capability as it requires to realise it:

‘Local authorities are in a position to fundamentally reshape public services for the benefit of residents and businesses through the strategic development of their digital assets, and drive significant savings over the course of the next decade. Local government needs to develop an IT capability that is disruptive, that can develop its own solutions and designs services differently, centred on people. New opportunities to share IT services between local authorities, on a bigger scale and through digital centres of excellence should be pursued’ [116]

The report recommends that local government

‘Develop a new strategy for technology to support service innovation, establishing new protocols for open data and sharing data between agencies, and new platforms to build interoperability and promote access.’

“Local government is an area for particular focus, given resource constraints. Innovation and sharing of resources should be strongly encouraged.” – Professional body

[114] Creative Citizens research – Williams et al http://creativecitizens.co.uk/2014/07/07/the-state-of-uk-hyperlocal-community-news-a-survey/
[115] http://lgalabour.local.gov.uk/documents/330956/6335671/INNOVATION+TASKFORCE+FINAL+REPORT.pdf
[116] LGA report P34

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