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Waking to a digital dawn

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As austerity brings local authorities to tipping point, many councils are moving towards an outcomes-based approach and considering digitisation. Rachel Dalton analyses PwC’s research

It is becoming clear that 2015 is the year in which councils will reach the crucial point at which, faced with more austerity, they must either transform the way they work or risk having to cut essential services.

In order to deliver better for less, in a climate where much of the ‘fat’ within local authorities has already been trimmed, councils are increasingly exploring outcomes-based approaches combined with digitisation to maintain service delivery.

PwC’s latest annual local government survey, The Local State We’re In, collected opinions from local authority chief executives and leaders as well as 2,000 members of the public in March 2014. The results show how councils are looking to examine their role and purpose and fundamentally transform themselves.

The challenge

The report delved into chief executives’ and leaders’ views on the financial challenge ahead. It found that 89% of chief executives and leaders believe some local authorities will experience serious financial crisis over the next five years.

Further, it said 91% of leaders, and 80% of chief executives, believe some councils will fail to deliver essential services between now and 2020. More than a third of leaders and chief executives (36%) believe service delivery will fail as soon as 2015.

Focusing on outcomes

As financial pressure grows, councils are increasingly realising that simply cutting where they can is no longer sufficient. Instead, councils need to change their focus from delivering services to facilitating outcomes.

Six in 10 leaders and chief executives said local authorities must focus on enabling outcomes rather than delivering services. However, there is still some way to go in preparing for this.

The public’s expectation of digitisation is still one step ahead of that of local authorities

Less than half of the respondents said they have a good understanding of the cost of delivering outcomes on a multi-organisational basis across their areas; in short, the big picture has yet to become clear.

Further, there is still a divide in opinion between leaders and chief executives on outcomes-based working, where almost half (44%) of leaders strongly agree that councils should use the approach, compared to just a fifth (26%) of chief executives.

Digital technology has long been lauded as part of the answer to both delivering services more efficiently and shifting councils’ operational models from delivering services to enabling citizens to secure outcomes for themselves.

PwC’s research found that leaders (75%) and chief executives (61%) are very confident in their approach to new technologies.

However, just 29% of the members of the public surveyed said their local authorities had embraced new technology to deliver better public services, suggesting the public’s expectation of digitisation is still one step ahead of that of local authorities.

Appetite for digital

The desire for digital services among members of the public transcended the age barriers that often used to cast digitisation into doubt. Though the appetite for digital services was strongest in 18-34 year olds, almost half of respondents aged over 55 wanted to see more services available digitally, too.

The public provided further insight into where digitisation is being used the most. When asked how they had interacted with their local authority online in the past month, one in five (21%) respondents had accessed information on services digitally, while 10% had used a digital platform to pay for a service.

Smaller cohorts had interacted with the council digitally to give feedback on services and contact customer services.

Digital agenda

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This special report was sponsored by PwC. The topic was agreed by LGC and PwC. The report was commissioned and edited by LGC.




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