Digitalising local government

Cllr Neil Prior, deputy chair of the Local Government Association’s Improvement and Innovation Board discusses digitalisation and embracing technology

As the representative body for 350 councils in England and Wales, the Local Government Association provides improvement support to members through its sector support offer, which helps councils improve local services, share best practice, and drive forward innovation across the sector.
    
One of the central parts of our improvement offer is our work around digital transformation. While councils like much of society, have embraced technology and digitalised how we live and work, this is a rapidly evolving landscape and we are very much at the beginning of this journey. We saw this during the pandemic, when councils like many organisations, switched to hybrid and remote working overnight. Whether it is as a service provider, a public sector service coordinator, a leader of place, or as a multimillion-pound organisation, emerging technologies will continue to change both the way councils work, and what is expected of them.
    
The Government has an ambition to make the UK a science and technology superpower, and to prioritise economic growth. As 99.9 per cent of private sector companies in the UK are SMEs, these ambitions begin locally. As leaders of place and with local government annual spend totalling over £70 billion, digitalised councils are best placed to unlock and lead digitally driven economic growth in their local economies through prioritising innovation, investment, and digital skills development for local businesses. In their leadership role, councils also ensure that digitally driven economic growth is as inclusive as possible, and all have access to the opportunities that digitalisation offers.
    
The data councils hold also plays a key role in designing, delivering and transforming public services to improve outcomes and drive efficiencies. Opening up and sharing data can drive innovation in local digital economies provided it is done so in an ethical and responsible way that protects residents’ rights.

So what is digitalisation?
Let’s be clear straightaway that local government digitalisation is not just about IT. Rather, it is the means by which councils adapt to the change that technology brings. It is an enabler for the modernisation of the public sector, and it is the means by which we better serve our residents and local communities. But while technology has opened many doors and improved how we live and work, there are challenges ahead.
    
The public sector digital landscape is only going to get more complicated, and local government will be at the front and centre of this. Set within this context, we all know that a lack of money and legacy IT are serious problems, but they are not the only ones. Few of our senior leaders are digital natives, and even fewer fully understand the security or ethical considerations that accompany new technology.
    
Managing technology-based risks and opportunities is going to get harder, and as local government’s use of technology increases, so will the tensions between devolved independence and centralised assurance, resilience and efficiency, confidentiality and insight, and transparency and complexity. If we are to meet these challenges and seize these opportunities, we must take the lessons we learnt from responding to the pandemic and build upon them.
    
During the pandemic, local government adapted, reacted, and accelerated the digital delivery of services to meet the needs of the communities it serves. As a result, we witnessed a generational shift in how councils operate. Councils increased the co-production of online services with residents and built simple-to-use services that work for the people who needed them most. Local government is now working hard to embed these changes and improvements, and the LGA is working to support them as they do so. Through digitalised public services, procurement of products and partnerships with the tech sector, councils are key contributors to the government’s ambition of £41.5 billion growth (GVA) in the tech sector by 2025.
    
To better enable this support, we recognised a need to create a shared understanding of what the aims of local government digital transformation are. So last year, at a SOCITM event at Windsor Castle, the LGA proposed an understanding of local government digitalisation based around strategic goals. Then, with SOCITM, SOLACE, and experts throughout the sector we refined them into a framework of 12 shared strategic outcomes.
    
These shared outcomes will help us create a common language that enables strategic planning and becomes an enabler for the simple identification and sharing of best practice. This in turn will support the design and delivery of modern public services, and enable councils to operate effectively as digital organisations, and champion the digital needs of their communities. But whilst a common language, shared goals and an agreed framework is a good start, if we really want councils to collaborate and learn from one another, the LGA must use its unique position to enable that learning.

How will we provide this support?
Building on the 12 outcomes outlined above, the LGA will create a Digitalisation Almanac which will educate, signpost and provide insight into each outcome, giving councils the tools and guidance to pursue digital transformation.
    
Our bi-monthly stakeholder groups will allow hundreds of officers to collaborate on issues related to digital technologies, ranging from digital inclusion and transformation to technical cyber advice. And we will develop our Leadership Essentials training for councillors and provide them with knowledge of what digital transformation means from a leadership perspective.
    
With officer capability critical to how we approach digitalisation, we are also working to understand the recruitment and retention needs of councils in digital services. The aim is to create a framework that outlines the qualifications, skills, capabilities, and behaviours required for digital, data, and cyber roles. This framework will allow councils to recruit employees with the appropriate skills while also providing guidance on training to enable the upskilling of existing staff.
    
We have also adapted our peer challenges with Cyber 360 programmes to help councils improve their cyber security culture by providing a safe environment for constructive challenge and improving the understanding of what a good approach to cyber security looks like. We have worked with five councils so far, with up to another 20 planned for this financial year. And in the medium term, our hope is that 360s will grow to become a stalwart offer for councils as they look to build their digital capability through sector-led support.
    
I’m really excited about the future of digital transformation in local government. While there are challenges ahead, there are also great opportunities for us to work together, and collaborate across the sector, working with local partners to deliver the best possible local services for residents whilst driving inclusive economic growth, with digitalisation at its heart.

Further Information: 

Read More

Event Diary

Join the digital, data and technology community at DigiGov Expo – where public sector experts and innovators gain knowledge to transform government services.

Futurebuild, the built environment’s most influential event for innovation and collaboration is back for its 18th year, taking place at London’s ExCeL from March 5 – 7 2024. The event, which is set to be the most impactful yet, will continue its mission in taking a stand for a better built environment, showcasing groundbreaking ideas, creative and inspirational innovations and crucial collaboration to help us set the stage for a greener, more resilient future.

Register Now

In a world where communication technology is evolving at an unprecedented pace, staying ahead of the curve is crucial for both personal and professional growth. The Communication Technology Expo, scheduled for the 13th and 14th of March 2024, promises to be a pivotal event for anyone seeking to explore the cutting-edge advancements in the field. From networking opportunities to hands-on demonstrations and thought-provoking discussions, here's why you should mark your calendar for this immersive experience.

Innovative Exhibitors and Demonstrations:

Supplier Profiles

Just Protect IT Ltd.

At Just Protect It Ltd, we're more than just a security company.

We help Government organisations make better decisions.

Beehive is an award-winning customer experience and insight agency that helps executive decision