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MODERNISING GOVERNMENT - THE CHALLENGE TO COUNCILS - SOCITM

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Whilst SOCITM fully supports the aims of the Modernising Government White Paper, it contains major challenges which...
Whilst SOCITM fully supports the aims of the Modernising Government White Paper, it contains major challenges which many councils will struggle to come to terms with.

Proposals including improved liaison between local & central government, outcome focused policies, people focused services, integration of services to support life episodes, 24 hour/7 day a week services and electronic government gateways will, no doubt, be quickly exploited by councils that are forward thinking in their use of ICT.

It is already perfectly clear that government intends to work with those who are proactive and are able to demonstrate their capability to deliver quickly.

Increased empowerment, flexibility and access to funding will encourage and support continued growth in the innovative activities which are now taking place in many local authorities.

Councils which are proactive, well co-ordinated and genuine leaders in their communities will find encouragement and support from the proposals. Opportunities and incentives include access to Invest to Save funding, deregulation, greater empowerment for leading organisations and targets for improvement.

Authorities which are struggling to commit to and deliver on the wider government agenda including local democracy, Best Value etc, may well find Modernising Government a difficult agenda to respond to. Political buy-in to the change agenda is critical, as is the need to recognise the need for changes to culture, core processes and, probably, organisations.

For councils which fail to deliver this agenda there are real threats. Targets defined in the White Paper include local government services and measures are identified to ensure deliver, with or without local authority involvement. For such councils, partnership, which should be seen as a major opportunity, can also become a means of diminishing their future roles.

There are also potential risks. Mutual trust between agencies across the public sector, whether central or local, will be vital to ensure early progress. It is essential that local government ensures it is involved in the planning and decision making processes which will support joined up policy making and delivery in the future. Local government professional associations and the LGA have crucial roles to play in ensuring liaison and involvement with central government as well as communication of information and promulgation of good practice between councils.

Local government has a good track record of IT implementation which contrasts with a number of high profile major problems in introducing technology in central government. Modernising must enable good practice to be built upon and not diminished. Lead times for the type of activity which will be required can be considerable, for example, many of the high profile new customer services which exploit IT have been developed over several years. This is because of the need to deliver cultural, organisational and process changes, which need to be implemented alongside new IT developments.

Information and communications technology has been central to effective service delivery for many years and IT managers have often stressed the importance of ensuring business and IT strategies are integrated. The White Paper demonstrates the future criticality of IT to public services.

The scale of activity required by IT will be substantially greater than that currently undertaken. Standards of local government IT activity need to be maintained and even enhanced, if new requirements are to be met without increased risks of slippage, excess cost, or failures in controls or security.

Local authority IT managers are in a position to influence, encourage, facilitate and support colleagues in taking forward the 'modernising' agenda. They have a particular responsibility to raise awareness of what can be achieved and to contribute proactively to the development of the corporate agenda.

SOCITM also has a key role to play. It liaises regularly with the LGA and key players in central government and has been active in the consultation process leading up to the publication of the White Paper. The society intends to continue to develop this involvement.

The society is already providing support to its members through briefings, newsletters, the MAPIT programme and the work of the Reinventing and Best Value groups. It has a strong track record of identifying and promulgating best practice, which will be essential to enable early progress.

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