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With the 2015 general election, there has been a lot of talk about politics lately.

Local government needs to go digital to boost public services


Needless to say, there has been a lot of talk as of late about politics; some of it good, some of it bad, some of it ugly. The run up to 2015’s general election, in particular, created a buzz of political discourse in workplaces, coffee shops and boardrooms, with a multifaceted, multilayered national conversation taking place about the role and expectation people have of government.

One of the key themes emerging for decision-makers at a local level is the mood for serious change - in short, councils want more powers to make their own decisions about matters that affect them. Westminster, they argue, is too disconnected (an argument supported by the fact that Britain is an exceptionally centralised nation).

Now, while advocates of decentralisation believe they have the capacity to do so, others are less convinced. The financial crash of 2008, the recession and then the deep and severe cuts of the last five years haven’t been favourable to local authorities. It’s been a testing time and difficult decisions have had to be made.

Have these been the right ones? Again, depending on where you stand, yes and no. The former group see it as being the only choice they have been capable of making - making do with the resources and powers they have - while the latter believe more inventive, forward-thinking approaches would have delivered far better results.

Chief to everything has been money; a lack of, to be specific. Over the last five years there has been a massive reduction in funding from central government, resulting in councils implementing severe public sector cuts. And the likelihood is that this will continue over the next half-decade.

With that in mind, local government, more than ever, is in need of innovation. Even with reduced budgets, councils have the potential to make a dramatic difference to the way local services are delivered. It simply requires a willingness - an eagerness even - to do things differently. Technology is the catalyst.

The irony is that government - central and local - has long been aware of this. Digital technology, which has already had a transformative impact in other walks of life, is understood to be not only important to local politics, but also integral for modernising the way councils work. Take-up, however, has been slow, protracted and inconsistent.

Yet, if more effort is made to position tech as a top three agenda item, the possibilities and opportunities are, without a shadow of a doubt, immense. It really is a game-changer.

For example, a digitally-rich council can benefit from greater engagement with constituents via social media, acquire insight through big data and deliver substantial cost and time savings through the digitising of paper and processes associated with it.

Moreover, technology being the way it is, the benefits of it are lasting and continuous. It adapts and evolves, it can be modified (open source), used day and night, is mobile (literally) and interconnected. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that the public are increasingly savvy about technology, both personally and professionally.

Taken as a whole, it’s clear to see how important technology is to local government. There are, otherwise, limits to what is possible within the parameters of the current system and against further cuts to finances. Nevertheless, councils that go digital can still make the next five years some of the most radical ever. That kind of power and influence is there for the taking.


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