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Data is key to improving public services

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As the leader of a council, it’s vitally important for me to know how well we are providing the key services that our residents rely on – such as collecting bins.

Of course, residents will tell me if they have any issues, and we as councillors rely on these links with our local communities. But sometimes it’s important to get a wider picture of how my council, Sevenoaks, is doing. For this sort of data, the LGA’s LG Inform service is the first port of call.

It’s nearly a year since we launched LG Inform, which enables councils to share information about their performance with residents in a meaningful, open and transparent way. It uses government and other data to provide an up-to-date snapshot of a local area and the performance of an organisation, and gives residents and local authorities a chance to measure performance by comparing their council with others.

As LG Inform has developed, its success, and conversations among colleagues, got us thinking about whether there could be other ways to use it. In particular, we were interested in how councils could use LG Inform for data benchmarking in a way that will enable us to be reactive and flexible.

The notion of local government taking responsibility for its own data is in keeping with the sector-led improvement work we have been doing and, with that in mind, we launched a pilot exercise to enable councils to do this.

We wanted LG Inform to respond to some of the issues there can be with national data. Local authorities have little say on the elements of data we provide to government and there can be issues with frequency, usefulness at local level or simply the fact that sometimes there can be a lag between providing data and it being published. We have to make decisions on the ground quickly, and sometimes we have already acted by the time national data is released by the government.

Key to a sector-owned benchmarking club was providing a private, secure space for councils to benchmark their own data, and we consulted them to identify a basket of measures they wanted to report back on. There were about 400 votes to whittle a shortlist of 30 indicators down to five; these cover sickness absence rates, waste collection and complaints. I am delighted to report that we have had more than 120 councils submit information.

It’s important to stress this remains a pilot, and we will continue to monitor the appetite for it and the different ways in which councils are using it. We are not trying to overwhelm services, nor create an official bank of statistics; this is a means of giving councils useful management information they want, which can inform the key services they provide for residents. It doesn’t require a commercial company and we don’t need central government to tell us what to collect; together, we can identify what’s useful and organise a way to collate it.

By identifying the key statistics which matter most to local authorities, as a sector we can focus on local priorities and provide ways to benchmark our performance which enable us to react quickly and effectively to challenges on the ground. In doing this, we will only enhance local government and the services we provide to our residents every day.

Council officers and members are able to access the report by registering/signing in here It will be made public in due course.

Peter Fleming (Con), leader, Sevenoaks DC, and chairman, LGA improvement board



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