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Report points to progress and problems in digital for Scottish councils

14/01/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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Scotland’s local authorities have stepped up the pace of developing digital services but need to do more in terms of citizen involvement and building skills, according to a new report.

Published by the Accounts Commission – the spending watchdog for local government that is part of Audit Scotland – Digital progress in local government says councils are at different stages of digital transformation, although there has been generally been good progress in the response to Covid-19.

It says the pandemic has increased the focus on service users and awareness of the risks of digital exclusion, and more services have been moved online and new solutions quickly developed. This has led to an acceleration of digital plans by up to three years and increased the recognition of the value of the technology.

In addition, councils have generally been adopting a ‘digital first’ approach for new services, while they have begun to review strategies and their members are adapting to use virtual tools such as video conferencing.

But the report says that involving users in service design is still limited in practice and councils need to improve how they monitor outcomes.

In response to this, it recommends that they create citizen and community engagement plans and adopt better realisation approaches.

Need for skills

There are also problems with insufficient skills and staff capacity, and digital skills initiatives are in place they need to better aligned with councils’ wider workforce plans.

This prompts a recommendation that they conduct surveys of staff skills and draw up workforce and skills development plans that include elected members and align with digital transformation plans.

Legacy systems are also providing obstacles for some authorities, and there is a need for clear plans to deal with them and create better co-ordinated solutions, the report says.

Its other recommendations include: that councils should work with the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government on developing common data standards and an approach to data ethics; they should develop clear digital strategies with a structured approach to collaboration and innovation; and there should be a review of the funding and delivery model of the Digital Office.

Andrew Cowie

Andrew Cowie (pictured), member of the Accounts Commission said: "Now is the time for clear and decisive strategic planning with the refresh of Scotland’s national digital strategy. It is an opportunity that has to be seized to ensure there is a vision for digital transformation across all councils, with shared priorities, skills and knowledge.

“Councils have worked hard to increase the pace at which digital technology has been introduced due to Covid-19, enabling many vital services to continue. Now all councils must focus on putting all citizens at the heart of digital service design, empowering communities to thrive, not just survive.”

Image from Audit Scotland, Open Government Licence v3.0

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