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Transformation barriers remain, despite Local Digital wins


Tough barriers to digital transformation of local services remain in place, despite the success of the Local Digital Campaign, launched last year to disseminate best practice, the campaign's joint SRO has told

The campaign is a partnership between DCLG, LB Camden and UKAuthority to help councils deliver effective local digital services, through sharing and promoting best practice.

Julian Bowrey, Deputy Director digital and corporate communications at the Department for Communities and Local Government, was speaking to at the campaign's 'hot topic' event on digital service performance dashboards, hosted at DCLG headquarters in London this week in collaboration with the Government Digital Service (GDS) and Socitm.

"The arrival of GDS on the scene three or four years ago galvanised interest in the public sector in digital services and I've been really pleased with the way people have responded to our campaign", Bowrey said. "If you just look at today, the fact we see over 50 people turning up for a morning to learn about performance dashboards shows there is an audience out there.

"I think the challenge we've got now is to what extent are people able to go and use that knowledge, back at the ranch? We need to come back in a few months' time and hear people say 'I've developed a performance dashboard now, it's up there so people can see going on, every month our chief exec is looking at it'. We need to move from people saying 'Yes, that's a great idea' to embed digital [techniques] in the way public sector organisations do business."

The blocks to this pervasive shift in mindset are the "same old barriers", Bowrey said: "Individuals can be enthusiastic, but when you get back to the office, the world is always more complicated: maybe the data isn't there, or it cuts across another performance management regime the head of HR has been implementing, or it doesn't fit with the way the head of finance has agreed to do financial reporting."

A key to solving these issues once and for all will be to demonstrate how digital transformation tools can truly deliver. Senior council leaders are now very focused on cutting costs and improving services: digital managers and practitioners have to show how digital can make that difference.

This in turn will be helped by the fact that local service technologies have already become a lot easier for councils to access and use, for example on open source sharing platforms such as GitHub, Bowrey said. "And councils can buy services more cheaply through one of our framework agreements - they can access software as a service quite quickly now through G-Cloud, for example.

As for the Local Digital Campaign, it will continue to build towards the current planned conclusion of its first phase in March 2015, with the team "focused on delivering a big splash", Bowrey said. Beyond that, following the election in May 2015 and subsequent Comprehensive Spending Review in the autumn, any second phase of the campaign will be tied more closely into a wider public service transformation policy agenda spread right across central and local government, he said. A cross-government campaign could reach out from local government to span other departments and agencies, building on the successful experience of working with the Department for Health, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, Land Registry, and the Cabinet Office.

"We need to make sure all departments are able to take the opportunity we offer, so we can be the interface between their services to the public and what local government is doing, helping to create better, cheaper services," Bowrey said.

"As for quite how we manage that transition - watch this space."

Pictured: Julian Bowrey, Deputy Director digital and corporate communications at the Department for Communities and Local Government, addresses a recent 'hot topic' event.
"Storify" summary of social media activity around this week's event:
Local Digital Campaign events:

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