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MHCLG allocates £1.3 million to local digital projects


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has allocated almost £1.3 million for 16 council led projects to use digital technology to improve local services.

They include efforts to harness virtual assistants such as Amazon Alexa to support people in care, improving online tools for reporting social housing repairs and using data analytics and AI to produce education plans for children with special needs.

The money has been allocated as the first tranche of £7.5 million managed by MHCLG’s Local Digital Collaboration Unit (LDCU), aimed at supporting projects in which councils collaborate and are ready to share the results with others.

It follows a selection process in which the unit received 389 expressions of interest, 77 of which were developed into full applications. The winning projects were selected by a team put together by the LDCU.

Further rounds of funding are expected next year.

The projects involve the lead councils partnering with others to share knowledge and ideas, and the LDCU working with LocalGov Digital – a group of practitioners in the field – and a group of local authorities to develop an online resource for information on digital efforts taking place in the sector.

Minister for Local Government Rishi Sunak (pictured) said: “Embracing digital technology can revolutionise public services. Within local government, I firmly believe it has the potential to improve a range of services in a host of different ways.

“Ultimately, our aim is to make services better for users but it is likely to reduce costs for councils too. This could be by improving the experience of someone in care, streamlining the admin that comes with the stress of moving home, or offering a simpler way to license taxis.

“And these are just some of the successful ideas which I am delighted to announce government funding for today. I’m excited to see these projects come to fruition.”

The projects receiving funding are as follows:

  • Birmingham City Council and two partners were awarded £69,300 to investigate how the use of virtual assistants or chatbots could improve the provision of care for people in need.
  • North East Lincolnshire Council and four partners were awarded £52,103 to look at how the GOV.UK Pay online payment service for government and public sector organisations can be used better across councils.
  • The London Borough Southwark and three partners won £80,000 to discover a better way for people in socially rented homes to report housing repairs online.
  • A project, led by Ealing Council with two partners, to research how analytics and artificial intelligence can help the writing of education, care and health plans for children with special educational needs was awarded £99,000.
  • Southwark again figures in a £78,000 award to support improvements in town planning with software. It has three partners in the project.
  • A project to improve decision making in council’s children’s services departments, led by Greater Manchester Combined Authority with three partners, was awarded £80,000.
  • Sunderland City Council and four partners were awarded £77,000 to work on understanding the best way to enable people moving into an area to have to contact the council only once to set up all services.
  • An effort to build a prototype system to help frontline children’s services workers access information they need to assess what support to offer and judge safeguarding risk was awarded £100,000. It will be led by Stockport Council with three partners.
  • Greater London Authority and four partners were awarded £100,000 to work on providing better and more up-to-date information for planning departments by improving data collection.
  • Worcestershire County Council and 14 partners won £57,500 to look at how registration data for births, deaths and marriages can be securely and ethically shared to improve services and reduce costs.
  • Gateshead Council and two partners were awarded £75,865 for a project to fix complexity in taxi licensing applications.
  • A project looking at whether chatbots and AI can improve the design of public services, and to create a place for sharing relevant solutions was awarded £80,000. It involves Oxford City Council and 12 partners.
  • Adur and Worthing Councils and two partners were awarded £78,400 to discover how local directories in councils, health bodies, police forces and the voluntary sector can be better coordinated.
  • An effort to develop a prototype system for managing freedom of information and subject access requests, led by Hackney Council and three partners, was awarded £80,246.
  • Greater Manchester Combined Authority and 10 partners were awarded £74,900 to work on simplifying data protection impact assessments by using digital and sharing the method across the country.
  • North East Lincolnshire Council and one partner were awarded £69,178 to create a way of gathering information on problems and successes of waste collection services.

A blogpost by the LDCU has highlighted three projects that did not quite fit the criteria for awards but which it hopes to see further developed. For one of these, it said it will work with LocalGov Digital and Hackney Council on a further iteration of the Pipeline as a repository on information on local government digital projects.

This recently received a boost with news that the Greater London Authority has begun to place details of some of its projects on the platform.

The LDCU also highlighted the potential for projects to visualise failure in waste services and develop a library of patterns for best practice in the field.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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