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MHCLG's Local Digital team is building a nationwide community


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The Local Digital Declaration is part of a programme under which MHCLG’s Local Digital team is building a community with organisations aiming to develop local public services through a collaborative approach - with an emphasis on solutions that are open and reusable.

MHCLG has used the declaration to draw local authorities together, and in 2018 launched a £7.5 million funding round for a series of pilot projects dealing with specific challenges for local government – with the proviso that each should involve more than one local authority.

This was followed by a second stage of funding in September 2019 for the projects that showed the most promise, and a call for a further round for new proposals, applications for which closed in the same month. A fourth round was launched in January 2020 with six councils winning a share of £1.2m in March.

The emphasis has been on fundamentals - #FixThePlumbing - rather than exploring emerging govtech. The first round helped to improve the understanding of issues affecting core services, as well as building the opportunity for councils to replace some legacy systems with solutions better suited to the new challenges of a digital world.

Among the examples in the group to receive a second round of funding are the project involving Stockport, Leeds and Manchester to provide children’s social workers with better family context information to speed up their decision making; and Southwark, Hackney, the Greater London Authority and Surrey Heath working on a user-centred digital planning application system.

Paul Maltby, chief digital officer of MHCLG, says: “Collaboration and reusing patterns are at the heart of this approach. We’ve shown we can bring councils together to deliver a project, even if they’re not neighbouring authorities.”

He adds that it has fed into a broader learning: “We can look at what patterns around certain services would look like, and what sort of tools, products and processes are right to help councils collaborate.”

Led by May-N Leow, the Local Digital Collaboration Unit is working on ‘productising’ learnings so they can be easily replicated and adapted in other councils, and encouraging a more modular approach to how services are built and compiled. This includes encouraging councils to work in the open and share their learnings and help open up the market to a wider range of SMEs.

The Local Digital Fund awarded grants to seven new projects in October 2019, bringing the total number of collaborative digital projects funded to 23 since September 2018. Exactly 100 councils in England have partnered on at least one of these funded projects. The fund has also been used to deliver digital training to over 1000 council employees.

The fourth round of funding (spring 2020) aimed to further boost momentum by providing support for projects that received backing under rounds two and three. Six councils - Southwark, Lambeth, Greenwich, Buckinghamshire, Croydon and Barnsley – won shares of £1.2 million for the further development of such projects.

The Local Digital programme is also paying attention to relevant cyber security and resilience issues – a weakness in some legacy infrastructures that use old software that is no longer supported – and retaining a focus on the user experience. In March 2020 it began work on a pre-discovery as a first step towards supporting councils on this front - publishing its findings in May.

Maltby highlights three ambitions for the long term: building the capability to create more user designed services, iterated products and better communications between teams; a different software landscape with more reuse and adaptability, and councils breaking away from long term contracts for end-to-end services, taking opportunities for new technologies to provide new services.

Keep up to date with MHCLG's Local Digital team


Read UKAuthority's report Fixing the Plumbing

UKAuthority, with support from AWS, has been exploring the impact of the Local Digital Declaration on the front line - Download ‘Fixing the Plumbing: Principles of the Local Digital Declaration in action (PDF)

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