This report examines how digital technologies could help councils save money, foster local economic growth and deliver better outcomes for local residents and communities.
It sets out a vision of where councils might be in 2025 to better understand what opportunities they face now.
Local government has made huge progress in enabling residents to carry out basic transactions online. But most councils have a long way to go to deliver smooth, frictionless services and fully digitise their back offices. Digitisation isn’t just about developing digital services; depending on the level of ambition, digital tools can help:
- Save money and deliver better outcomes by intervening earlier and helping people manage their own conditions.
- Transform the way that councils work internally, commission services and partners, diagnose and solve problems, use public space, and attract talent.
- Make services smoother and easier to access, more personalised and user-responsive.
- Put residents at the heart of local problem-solving and decision-making and create an environment which supports businesses to startup and scale.
The 2025 vision
Like the best tech companies, future councils will be lean, agile and data-driven. Siloed services will be replaced with multi-agency teams that form around specific local challenges. A truly mobile workforce has freed up public space. Almost all transactions take place online. Instead of two-dimensional council websites, interactive platforms connect users with third-party apps and services, and stream personalised content on local democracy, jobs and services.
Relational services (such as social care) still rely heavily on face-to-face contact. But digital tools help people to manage their own long-term conditions and connect to a broader network of support, such as peer mentors, health coaches, friends and family, volunteers and group-based activities. Digital technologies have helped councils take a more ambitious approach to place-shaping. A larger share of public contracts go to high-growth SMEs. Councils systematically engage residents in decisions about how services are commissioned, delivered and evaluated.
The report recommends:
- Councils become digital by default, moving all transactional services online and fully digitising their back offices by 2020.
- The Cabinet Office should bring together key local government actors to define - and continuously update - open standards for data for the whole public sector.
- Leading councils should come together to create a market for new digital products in cases where local authority needs are not currently being met by off-the-peg solutions.
- City regions should be required to establish an Office of Data Analytics (ODA) as part of devolution settlements. The ODA – modelled on the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics pioneered in New York City – should be tasked with helping city leaders and public bodies bring together and analyse data to support regional economic growth and local public sector reform.
- Councils should invest in accessibility, by providing online and human navigation support to help people use digital services in public spaces, such as libraries and jobcentres. They should also ensure that pathways between different services are seamless, jargon free, and that people with different digital needs are appropriately ‘triaged’.
- The Cabinet Office should review and publish detailed guidance on the ethical dimensions of data-sharing and algorithm-supported decision-making.
Meghan Benton and Julie Simon