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Demos calls for central funding to support local digital engagement


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Central government should provide more support for the digital efforts of local government, including direct funding to support communications abilities, according to thinktank Demos.

This is one of the core recommendations from its new Locating Authority report, which introduces the concept of ‘relational local government’ to build stronger relationship between council officials and their communities.

The report says that Demos’s research found a need to expand the use of digital tools for public engagement, and that there should be a greater emphasis on interactional rather than one-way capabilities.

There is also a need to improve the collection of data on local authorities’ digital engagement, with the report referring to a Government Digital Service survey of 2018 that stated the information on the subject is patchy, and literature review in 2019 by MySociety.

Demos says there is plenty of potential for increasing the use of digital communications, as shown during the pandemic when many authorities moved their council meetings online.

Dedicated grant

It urges central government to provide a dedicated grant to councils to develop relational skills, partly through using digital innovations and new modes of communications with the public. These should be identified by council staff and the public.

This should be supported by central government efforts to improve data collection of local digital innovation.

On a broad front, the report outlines three pillars of relational local government: genuine power sharing in which people have an effective on services; new online and offline spaces for connection; and consistent and open communication.

Introducing the report, Ciaran Cummins of Demos said: “We have found a number of barriers that make it difficult for local government to achieve these pillars, so our report sets out a number of recommendations – for both central government and councils – to overcome these barriers and unlock relational local government for all.”

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