Digital must be at the heart of the next administration if we are to meet the challenge facing public services. The new government is going to face some difficult decisions about cost cutting.
However, not many people are aware of the scale of the digital problem. Ten million adults have never used the internet and five million have only used the web once. This means that over 25% of the adult population has hardly any engagement with a tool and a world that the rest of us take for granted.
Perhaps even more worrying is the breakdown of non-users by socio-economic group. Four million people suffer from a minimum of three or more measures on the multiple deprivation index. Thirty-nine percent of those in this category are over 65, 38% are unemployed and 19% are families with children.
With substantial advances in accessing and exchanging information; in banking, downloading, purchasing, gaming and in the growth of social media, the world as it appears to people online is becoming fundamentally different from the one those remaining offline live in - something local government cannot afford to ignore.
Research was commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers to look at the cost of the interactions that this group of non-users has with government.
Developing the digital skills of the most excluded citizens should be a major theme in financial planning and efficiency saving
Martha Lane Fox
Because the lowest-income adults are also the heaviest users of government services, there is much to gain. If one interaction a month that the 10 million have with government were to become an electronic transaction rather than paper, phone or face-to-face, the savings would be considerable.
Tackling the digital skills gap is the major public administrative challenge the new government faces. We should be aiming for the strategic incorporation of the 100% challenge into the corporate plans and long-term policy-making of all public services.
Local government’s Total Place pilots demonstrate that digital can play a key role in supporting the delivery of transactional services, and providing joined-up solutions across public sector bodies.
Developing the digital skills of the most excluded citizens should be a major theme in financial planning and efficiency savings. Local authorities must respond to this in their corporate plans and, with other local public services, through local and multi-area agreements.
There is the experience from the DC10plus network of public, private and third sector partners, which is dedicated to sharing good practice and developing initiatives. This has shown that leaders and chief executives in particular have a powerful role to play in brokering the local digital economy and public services to provide local solutions.
Embedding digital in the public service challenge around efficiency will require an intensification of this work by even the leading authorities in this field, and a change in posture from those who face the most entrenched challenges or who have been slow to progress activity so far.
I’d like to see each local authority sign up to a pledge to do more to help raise the digital skills of their residents and commit to a local digital champion to act as a critical friend to the public services during this journey.
Now is the time to move online, and I firmly believe that the benefits are within our grasp if the challenge is to be properly met.
Martha Lane Fox, UK’s Digital Champion and head, Race Online 2012 Campaign
Race online 2012
Part of the Race Online 2012 campaign is to persuade local authorities of the benefits of getting more citizens to use their services through digital media - and LGC is proud to have been adopted as an official partner alongside Microsoft, Google, BT, Sky and other leading organisations.
From our news reports to our agenda and briefing sections, LGC reflects the need for authorities to engage effectively with their citizens, including the most marginalised. Comment, analysis, case studies and best practice inform that belief and we place a premium on the growing importance of achieving efficiency through digital technology.
“LGC exists to be the first choice for information to help councils achieve high performance in the delivery of local public services - and we’re happy to help Race Online 2012 get across its key message of inclusion,” said editor Emma Maier.