Ruli Pennington is senior healthcare writer for i-D Information Daily & a frequent contributor to Public Service Digital. She is passionate about better public services, devolution & women's football. From Jan 2017 Ruli will write leaders for i-D & PSD


Nesta report says digital could save local authorities 40% of their budget

A new report from Nesta, entitled Connected Councils, details how councils can use digital technology to deliver improved services whilst saving money. The document also looks ahead to councils offering a fully-automated and user-friendly service more akin to Amazon, Spotify or Uber.

A series of optimistic predictions for digital transformation have been made, suggesting that the back offices of local government could be fully digitised and optimised for citizen-centric delivery by 2025.

Entirely responsive and making use of the most up-to-date security tools, the council websites of 2025 could employ thumbprint and voice recognition technologies to guide users safely through their online transactions and applications.

Running alongside this central hub could be a range of smaller apps and secondary platforms providing more specialised services, news and support. These could be especially beneficial for the elderly, child and health care sectors, enabling early intervention for preventable or treatable conditions and the self-management of wellbeing.

Nesta predicts that, if delivered across the UK, unitary councils could each save 13% of their budget by 2025, when compared to the present day. For ambitious councils who apply a more holistic approach to transformation, the savings could skyrocket to around 40%.

Crucial to achieving this bright future, they say, will be ensuring that the Cabinet Office leads from the top in both implementing and regularly refreshing a set of open data standards for the use of the public sector as a whole. Central government must also review and provide guidance related to the ethical implications of data sharing.

In contrast, however, Nesta implores individual, top-performing councils to band together and create a market for more bespoke digital solutions, required where one-size-fits-all has critically failed to deliver.

Complementary to devolution plans, the report calls for the establishment of an Office of Data Analytics (ODA) for all large city regions. The ODA is modelled on the Mayor's Office of Data Analytics from New York City, which has thus far used data analysis to combat crime, tackle quality of life issues and more widely embrace data transparency across the area under the policy line of ‘Open data for all’.

Ensuring that digital services can be accessed by all is critical to the report, which details that public areas, such as libraries and jobcentres, should have online and digital navigation tools put in place by the council. According to the ONS, 13% of citizens have still never used the internet.

Better Connecteda service developed by the Society of Information Technology Management and delivered by Boilerhouse Communications, evaluates Councils on their digital performance. Better Connected Live is a two day event that brings together public service leaders at all levels, inspiring them to seize the linked opportunities of digital and devolution to redesign services and support for local communities. It is designed to fill a number of crucial gaps in the understanding of those who lead transformation for a local authority, run a major service area, are responsible for customers, communities, data or insight and those who manage digital or customer services. It is scheduled for May 24/25 in central Birmingham.

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