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Tim Pitts: Why an insight function will become indispensable for all

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Local authorities are struggling to both balance their budgets and to serve their communities adequately. This financial year many have increased council tax in order to help fill gaps arising from funding cuts.

More than half (85 out of 151) with adult social care responsibilities used some or all their remaining social care precept flexibility when setting council tax. But is this problemsolving approach the right one?

It is predicted that as the population rises by 6.5% by 2030, numbers of working-age adults with physical or learning disabilities will increase by 15% and 21% respectively, and those with mental health problems by 14%. Raising tax is one means of handling increased demand, as is improving processes, but the maths indicate this is not a sustainable model. And, of course, it seems unlikely the cuts of this decade will be reversed. 

Insight from the vast quantities of data councils possess gives them a means to respond to increasing demand. 

There is good insight in pockets across  authorities, but we rarely see systematic use of data modelling, data science and predictive models that overlay the council’s data with that of partners and the private sector to get a deep understanding of issues’ root causes. Where this has been done successfully, as at Barking & Dagenham LBC, it has resulted in significant savings and improved the lives of service users.  Barking & Dagenham is one of the few authorities to reduce homelessness, and insight from data has been at the core of its approach. The council has identified the root cause of homelessness and tackled issues holistically, rather than reactively. 

This column has been supplied and paid for by Agilisys

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We predict an insight function will become indispensable for every authority. A simple hypotheses of this approach is ‘could we accurately predict not only how many people will come into residential care but who they are and when they are likely to require support?’, and then ‘could we use this insight to enable those people to live at home longer to improve their outcomes and reduce residential care costs?’. At one county we looked at, delaying just 10% of residential care placements by a year would save £5m. 

However, this insight is only useful if officers think differently. Officers need freedom to innovate and change, and the encouragement to do so, plus investment in enabling technologies such as  personalised digital marketing and internet of things solutions like the Alexa Echo Show to promote independence and reduce loneliness.

For most authorities, salami slicing and traditional transformation approaches are reaching their limit. Data insight and predictive analytics could change the game, allowing a more informed view of demand and causal effect which will enable much earlier and more targeted intervention. This will be crossservice, preventative and significantly less expensive.

Tim Pitts, managing partner, Agilisys

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