As the dust settles after the November 2022 Autumn Statement, it’s clear everyone has to adapt to challenging times.
Jeremy Hunt appears to have been kinder to Local Authorities than many predicted – at least for now. It’s unlikely there will be much rejoicing. It’s tough out there. Research published at the end of October, compiling the funding shortfall figures for local councils, revealed a funding gap of over £3bn.
It was in this context Mark Gannon and Richard Higginbotham attended the Society for Innovation, Technology and Modernisation’s (Socitm) Modernising Service Delivery 2022 event. The meeting provided a platform for local government professionals and suppliers to come together. The aim: to share best practice and experiences in digitalising and improving council services.
Mark knows Soctim extremely well – having previously been a member for many years and Chair of the Socitm East Midlands Region. For Richard, our RPA and AI product manager, it was his first experience.
The agenda covered a number of Socitm’s policy areas – leadership, diversity and skills, alongside modernising ICT service delivery. The topics of discussion and the speakers were many and varied. Though there were some consistent threads throughout the day.
Modernise citizen access
The day started with talks around simplifying digital access for citizens and this remained an underlying theme throughout. It was said, on multiple occasions, the citizen views their local authority as one entity. They have limited interest in the way separate departments are structured.
The siloed management structure of local authorities — and the way technology vendors licence and provide software — has created significant barriers. It was heartening to hear from delegates how they are tackling their common challenges; Working through Information Governance issues and cross-departmental collaboration to bring data together and improve service delivery.
It was clear there were still significant challenges ahead, which are not going to be eased by the Autumn Statement.
Start with front-line service delivery in mind
Change starts with – and succeeds or fails – with local authority staff.
The challenges the sector has in retaining staff were discussed – particularly those with technical skills. As the demand for skilled and dedicated people rises across the economy, wage opportunities in other sectors become more apparent in a cost-of-living crisis.
A fascinating talk on leadership and empowerment, and the ‘Wigan Way’ from Wigan Council, highlighted the need to recognise the value of intrinsic motivation of those working in front-line service delivery. It showed the value of encouraging people to think innovatively in casework.
The power of rethinking service through the eyes of the citizen (as well as the underlying talent for service design) was highlighted in the Top Talent presentations. Two teams presented their ideas for new digital services, as a culmination of an exercise in design reflection. It forced them to ‘think backwards’ to identify not just symptoms, but the root cause of a problem that potential users wanted to solve.
Staff retention and skills shortage
During the panel debate the power of involving front-line delivery teams, to design the way service is provided and monitored, illustrated how this basic motivation can be harnessed.
The same panel highlighted how stark the challenge of staff retention can be. The common theme was providing the tools, skills development and empowerment to feed the deep-rooted motivation of staff.
The themes of the day reinforce the mission of our own Manifesto for Local Government:
We will put the power of digital transformation back into the hands of local authorities and enable their digital autonomy
Our 8 commitments support this mission. They describe how we will help local authorities drive their own digital transformation. We put councils in control, enabling them to nurture in-house talent and focus relentlessly on citizen impact by giving council employees the tools needed to realise the value of investments faster.