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London councillors see digital exclusion as barrier to transformation


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Digital exclusion is the biggest barrier to successful digital transformation among London’s boroughs, according to a survey of its councillors.

Many of them also believe that data sharing can boost the quality of services but have concerns about whether the public has sufficient trust in the public sector to do securely.

The findings have emerged from a poll of 202 councillors of London boroughs carried out by YouGov for the Greater London Authority.

Its chief digital officer Theo Blackwell has outlined the findings in a Smart London blogpost that highlights the increasing awareness of the importance of digital issues.

It shows that, when asked to choose two factors, 79% of councillors now regard digital transformation as a priority for the next five years, marginally higher than the 73% who said it has been an important issue for the past five, and 64% agreed that data can help to improve government services.

They see significant barriers in the way, however. 50% said digital exclusion is a big factor in hindering transformation, with 27% pointing to cyber security, 21% the costs of transformation, 19% a lack of digital skills and 16% the poor handling of data and privacy.

“Many of public services act as a safety net for the most vulnerable, many of whom remain digitally excluded,” Blackwell says in the blog. “The idea that these citizens are abruptly left behind is an understandable concern which may block change unless inclusion is designed in right from the start.”

It requires that services are built with input from constituents and civic groups, and that there should be sufficient debate about transformation plans before they go ahead, he says.

When it comes to which uses of data could most improve services, 53% pointed to sharing it with other public agencies, 43% to improve the planning of services, 28% to integrating records held by councils and the NHS to allocate treatment, and 22% to improve transport services by tracking passenger journeys.

But the councillors indicated that residents of their areas had concerns about the security of data. While sentiment is generally in favour of sharing personal data to improve services, with 45% agreeing their local residents are in favour and 19% disagreeing, only 27% agreed that the public trusts public authorities to handle the data securely while 44% disagreed.

Blackwell says that data sharing is critical for the future of public services, and that practical improvements have to be combined with building among citizens and other users.

Other significant points to emerge were that most respondents recognised the potential importance of smartphone data, with 69% saying it would be useful against 18% disagreeing; and that there is extensive support for the use of sensor technology to gather data, especially for detecting air pollution and helping to manage traffic.

Image from iStock, Mihai Simonia

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