Interim report from Local Government Association points to financial savings and benefits to councils and residents
A collection of pilot digital projects backed by the Local Government Association (LGA) has produced financial savings, benefits to residents and to councils and their partners, the organisation has said.
In an interim evaluation of its Digital Experts programme it also highlights the broad messages to emerge, including the need for projects to fit into a wider approach and to have a clear purpose.
The programme was established in March 2015 when the LGA agreed to fund 27 projects involving 42 councils. Its goal was to enable more councils to use digital tools and approaches already successfully applied by their peers. A total of £390,000 was awarded, with single councils receiving £10,000 and groups of councils being given £25,000.
By early 2016, 13 of the 27 were judged advanced sufficiently to be presented with lessons drawn from their experience.
The report outlines the progress of the individual projects, using them to illustrate the relevant benefits that can be achieved.
Most of the factors leading to financial savings are familiar – such as mobile technology saving on travelling time for council employees, and online channels reducing the need for residents to contact staff – but there is also a point on making greater use of community resources. For example, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council has saved about £1,200 by using volunteers to provide digital support to older people; and the Staffordshire County Council’s MyStaffsApp has encouraged the more efficient use of digital resources.
The projects are reported to have produced benefits to residents including more integrated and interactive service delivery, and simpler, more convenient contact with their local council.
The benefits to councils and their partners include improving collaboration with others, closer working with the voluntary sector, and increased self-sufficiency in developing new applications. The report points to how staff working on the Staffordshire project were taught to add functions, text, web links and images to their apps.
One of the big messages to come from the programme is that the more ambitious projects underline the major role councils play in their localities as organisers and in taking action. Despite the financial challenges they can draw on a range of existing resources, such as insights from daily interactions with the public, relationships with local partners in the voluntary sector, and the willingness of volunteers.
Another is that digital projects benefit from being part of a wider approach, with the most effective fitting into a reshaping of local services. This helps them win adequate resources and the ability to make connections within the organisation, reducing the risk of them becoming isolated and unsustainable.
In addition, clarity of purpose is essential, with a focus on the intended outcomes for a project, as is the ability to monitor progress. For example, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council supported its investment in a web chat facility by collecting statistics on its use and asking if residents would have used another route, and was able to calculate figures on the likely efficiency gains.
Councillor David Simmonds (pictured), chairman of the LGA's Improvement and Innovation Board, said: "There is a lot of excellent working going on in councils to develop and implement innovative digital ways of providing services.
"The Digital Experts programme gives a helping hand to those councils who are keen to draw on the learning of their peers and quickly implement what has worked well elsewhere, and the results make interesting reading.
"It is great to see councils learning from each other and adopting the digital tools which have already been developed. We want to support the sector to share these assets more effectively so there will be bigger benefits for more councils."