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Socitm urges councils to speed up virtualisation


Mark Say Managing Editor

Public sector IT association Socitm has highlighted the need for local authorities to use their responses to coronavirus as a step towards more virtual working and a multi-agency approach to service delivery.

It has made the points as part of its response to a question from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on the future path of the sector following the pandemic.

This follows the staging of a virtual workshop of Socitm regional representatives last week, on the back of which it has published a briefing paper that bulletpoints the main issues to arise.

Martin Ferguson

Martin Ferguson, the organisation’s director of policy and research, told UKAuthority that the response of many councils to the pandemic has shown how it is possible to rapidly adopt new approaches to their work.

He said the potential is underpinned by virtual infrastructure having “come of age”, with the authorities that had already good progress showing they were better placed to respond.

“That will increasingly become a priority,” he said, “looking across the whole piece to virtualising infrastructure at a much faster pace.”

Among the factors within this are the provision of robust networks, applications, device provision and management, identity verification, cyber sustainability and 100% high speed connectivity.

He pointed out that only a minority of councils currently have a full virtual infrastructure, and that while there are barriers to change they need to shift in that direction more quickly; but also acknowledged this requires a stronger broadband infrastructure in some parts of the country.

Unprecedented progress

Ferguson said that councils’ biggest achievement during the pandemic has been in the services offered to vulnerable people, with unprecedented degrees of information sharing and collaboration between agencies to identify those who need support.

“We’ve worked through a series of questions around changes that have happened, which have been beneficial and how we sustain them in the future,” he said. “Service design and collaboration aspects have been crucial in making an impact on people’s lives."

A strong element of this is likely to be councils acting as a broker for more services delivered by third parties.

“And for the workforce a complete shift in workstyle, with a recognition that it should be managed not by measuring inputs but the outcomes achieved and whether people are healthy and well. It’s about an organic approach to work and its outcomes.”

Low code and agile

Other significant elements of the Socitm position are for councils to make greater use of low code platform and agile methodologies in designing services. Ferguson pointed to work done by councils such as Hackney and Worcestershire in quickly creating new services to deal with the pandemic.

Along with this is an increase in data capabilities. Ferguson said that smaller councils with limited resources will struggle to do this on their own, but pointed to the potential of regional bodies such as Data Mill North to provide an aggregated capability.

The document also highlights points on democratic engagement and renewal, workstyles, asset rationalisation and living spaces.

Socitm is now working on a stronger understanding of the approaches that work well and how to make them sustainable around local authorities, partly by looking at some of the steps identified by major management consultancies and how they can be applied in public services. Ferguson emphasised the importance of designing services across places rather than just within an organisation.

He added that he would like to see MHCLG playing an active role in understanding what will make the changes sustainable and the investment required.

Image from Socitm

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