t-gov trends

According to Socitm’s IT Trends survey report published at the end of 2005, councils have spent in excess of £13bn on ICT over the past five years, an increase in resources of £2bn after taking account of inflation. Almost half of the new money has come from central government and the balance has been found from council budgets. In 2005/6 alone, spending on ICT systems, services and staff rose by 23 per cent to £3.3 billion pa.

Central government has contributed £670m through its local e-government programme, and there can be no doubt that this investment has had an impact. According to the DCLG, 97 per cent of services ‘in the average local authority’ had been e-enabled by the target date of 31 December 2005, with the majority of the ‘priority outcomes’ specified as part of the local e-government programme also in place.

Reaching full potential
But has ‘local e-government’ really achieved its full potential in terms of enabling councils to do more using the same or fewer resources, while maintaining or improving the level and quality of services delivered to the customer? This is where Socitm has been sounding a cautionary note for some time, arguing since the beginning of 2005 that many local authorities have focused primarily on technology, rather than business requirements, to e-enable services, therefore missing the opportunity to use the technology to facilitate real business change – or transformation.    If there is to be real transformational change in local government it needs to be embedded within the culture and practice of organisations and this can only happen with the full engagement of politicians, chief executives and business managers. This didn’t really happen within the e-government programme because, as we have commented, it tended to be seen as a technology programme that didn’t require their input.Transformational change requires a different approach. Fundamentally it is about delivering local as well as national policy and business goals, and the authorities’ strategic plans, using the appropriate implementation of technology to enable provision of better, more customer focused services, for no more (and sometimes even less) than it costs to provide them now. The eGovernment Unit’s strategy document ‘Transformational Government: Enabled by Technology’, published in November 2005, fully embraces this approach. It breaks new ground in reflecting the diversity of public service provision and in drawing on inputs from all tiers of government. From a purely local government perspective it recognises that Whitehall doesn’t run everything and even suggests that local authorities may have something to teach other parts of the public sector!

What is in the strategy?The Strategy has three key propositions:

  • the need for services to be designed around the citizen or business, not the provider;
  • public service organisations should move towards a shared services culture and to release efficiencies by adopting standards, simplification, and sharing;
  • there must be broadening and deepening of government’s professionalism in terms of the planning, delivery, management, skills and performance of ICT-enabled change.

Of course, the Strategy was a first step only. The recently published Local Government White Paper acknowledges that much remains to be done before transformational government can become a reality. We are currently reviewing the transformational government agenda and how channel delivery can be made more responsive to citizen and business need. Combined with proposals in this White Paper, the findings of Sir David Varney’s review will seek to provide further opportunities for local and central government and other providers to work more closely together on customer centred services.    In section 3.29 the White Paper says that “better management of customer information and data sharing are essential to underpin efforts to transform services to the benefit of the customer. Identity management is the ‘front end’ of better customer service. Too often the onus is on the citizen to prove their identity to government time after time. Improving cross-departmental sharing of data and management of customer information can enable government to provide better-designed services, target resources more efficiently and reduce the need for repeated contact.” And in sections 7.7 it says: “In order to deliver the transformed services and value for money that communities want, councils will have to challenge traditional methods of delivery, rooting out waste, in order to drive efficiency.”It goes on to say: “The best local authorities are already doing this. But we need to increase the pace of change. This will mean local authorities and other public bodies working together to overcome administrative boundaries that sometimes act as a barrier to service transformation. It will mean sharing assets, systems, data, skills and knowledge more effectively, and keeping all council activity under review to drive out waste.”Socitm is actively engaged in the work that is being done to make these things happen. Senior members of the Society are on the CIO and CTO councils and are contributing energetically to work being done to resolve issues around key infrastructures that need to be in place to enable transformation. These are needed to deliver secure transactional capability within and between organisations, identity management for authentication, security and permissions, data sharing arrangements, and arrangements for multi agency multi service delivery. None of these are simple to achieve and there perhaps needs to be a greater degree of frankness about blockers to some of these issues before a real breakthrough can be achieved.

Progress
But even if the nirvana of completely and comprehensively transformed government is some way off, we can still report a great deal of ‘transformational activity’ going on in local councils. In October, Socitm published a leaflet called ‘Realising the Benefits of Transformation’ that highlighted 18 transformational projects and programmes delivered successfully by councils across the UK. These examples, which are the tip of the iceberg as far as transformational activity in local government is concerned, illustrate how councils are:

  • reaping huge efficiencies from mobile and flexible working
  • joining-up services with other local providers through shared ICT systems
  • ensuring current service information is accessible 24/7 via the Internet
  • transforming service performance by adopting electronic tools
  • cutting print and media costs substantially by publishing on the web.

The leaflet includes case studies such as:

  • Surrey County Council’s flexible working initiatives, which have allowed them to remove 900 desks across the organisation, and to enable access from partner organisations and any Internet connected PC.
  • Westminster City Council, which receives 500 online payments for parking tickets a day. Combined with automated telephone payment, this saves the council £300,000 a year.

To view more case studies on transformational projects, go to www.socitm.gov.uk

Please register to comment on this article