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Report of the Digital Government Review

Understanding localism: collaboration and reuse, but not a loss of power

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Local government is a sector where many forms of innovation structure have been tried. Socitm summed it up well:

‘…relying upon volunteer, grass roots activism (like the LocalGovDigital initiative) and subscription-based membership models (like Socitm or Looking Local), is unlikely to deliver digital transformation at scale within the sector.

‘It is equally unrealistic to expect a sector where there is a history of patchy implementation of digital processes and services, and where funding is extremely tight, to suddenly change its approach without some sort of financial kick-start.’ [126]

The authors of ‘People Powered Public Services’ said that:

‘In the context of devolved powers, the role of the centre should be to encourage and challenge local areas to develop tech capability’…. To drive interoperability, capacity and learning locally, lessons could be learned from the Government Digital Service (GDS) to lever in new ideas and support the development from the ground up of systems designed around the needs of users and open platforms to provide information and data in an accessible way [127]

We don’t think that a single new service is the answer. A network of people who do things working together voluntarily with the backing of their local leaders is far more likely to achieve results then a grand strategy cobbled together at the centre and imposed on the unwilling, cynical or reluctant.

It is essential to retain local democratic control and accountability. It is essential for local authorities to work with the people and communities in their area to develop the services that are right for them. This creates the best services: people-powered ones. Local groups within authorities can create the space for innovation and creativity to flourish across the country, not just in the centre. They can choose to support local businesses, social enterprises and startups within their economy.

At the same time, we should be able to create more reuse and encourage more collaboration both between local authorities and their communities; and across the local sector. There are examples of excellent collaboration but they are just that, examples, rather than the standard way of working.

We can’t force people to collaborate when they don’t want to, instead we need to show them a direction and convince them that this collaboration will help reduce costs, provide scale and bring better public services to all. It will take a culture change to do this, but that is a challenge that we should take on.

So, we need a balance of recommendations that build on the existing pockets of excellence and collaboration, that allow local democratic control and accountability, while also encouraging greater reuse to reduce inefficiencies, and enable local authorities to take advantage of new digital capabilities and provide better services to their people and communities.


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