Microphone in a local government meeting
Chapter 3

Where’s the money coming from to take advantage of new technology?

The pandemic will continue to impact councils’ spending and income-generating capacity over the next few years. Some councils have seen a 40% decrease in core grant funding alone, with no sight of a plan to replace the shortcomings. And yet each authority faces underlying growth in service demands and costs. And under central projections by the IFS (Institute for Fiscal Studies), English councils would need a £10 billion increase in revenues between 2019–20 and 2024–25 to maintain service levels. Budget has always been a challenge, it’s just now more visible than ever.

Most councils realise the need to develop long-term plans now because demand and spending pressure will only go up, funding is not. So, what can you do? One simple piece of advice from the Technology Implementation Lead from one Yorkshire council suggests “Don’t do everything big. Technology can be small and local led; it just has to be aligned to the citizen needs.”

This fits with the mantra of some technology vendors such as Microsoft, operating at the forefront of innovation. That transforming digitally doesn’t mean a wholesale rip and replace of existing technology, rather, it’s about embracing this new world without spending a fortune or starting from scratch using much of the technology you already have. Yes, digital transformation is always a leap, but it need not always be a leap of faith. There are more cost-effective ways to transform and improve citizen lives.

Use what you have to deliver more value

Many local authorities still rely on spreadsheets and outdated processes to maintain service delivery. It’s generally acknowledged that this is a hinderance. It’s a lack of investment in technology that encourages workers to default to such comfort zones. They have no choice.

But innovations in technology means there is a different way. A better way. Because technology is easier to use and more accessible than ever. The days of costly big bang rip and replace projects are numbered. There is a growing awareness that many of the tools already paid for, are capable of delivering more value “Technology, traditionally, has taken time – we’ve been used to the 5-year project. However, today we’re better at being agile.” Says Paul Najsarek.

Access to tools such as Power Apps has given rise to the citizen developer, and there is no better person to develop an application than those who use the process every day. That’s not to say Local Government Associations should suddenly adopt a gung-ho approach to technology deployment and use, as Bramwell says, “We have guardrails in place around procurement and for the right reasons, but we’ve got to make sure they’re not barriers to innovation. I think there’s some self-reflection that needs to happen across the local authority industry to ensure we can go faster to drive momentum forward.” The pandemic has simply forced local authorities to look at how technology can deliver high-quality low-cost community services. The key though is to bring users into technology decision making, not leave them as bystanders.

With a little encouragement, and investment, Local Government could in fact become the UKs hot bed for digital talent. Using easily accessible modular tools to create needs-based applications. This alone will ensure momentum is maintained in the use of digital technology to improve the support and care citizens receive, in this more constrained world we live in.

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