Most councils do not use their data well enough and are missing chances to improve services and cut costs as a result, according to the Audit Commission.
The Commission accused councils of failing to use “the wealth of intelligence available to them to inform key decisions” across a range of departments from treasury management to social care.
Fifty-five per cent of councils had “good data quality”, while less than 5.1% were rated “excellent”.
Almost 80% of councils told the commission a lack of in-depth analysis of data was “a major problem”, according to the Is there something I should know? report.
It says: “Better information makes for better decisions and therefore better and cheaper services. Councils know this, but few extract value from the information they already hold.”
The report cites the head of information at one unitary council, as saying: “We have big issues on data quality. If a user of our customer records system can’t find someone then we create another record – as a result one person features 67 times on one system.”
But report author John Kirkpatrick said improvements in data use for some councils would not require spending large amounts of money.
“The best performing councils do not have the most expensive intelligence or information units,” he said. “In some cases, they spend less than 1% of their overall budget on it.”
As well as the Icelandic banking crisis and property estate management, the Commission cited understanding demographic portfolios to prepare for an aging population as examples where some councils had failed to capitalise on data they held.
The report also said that two thirds of councils say members struggle to understand information, and half say that senior officers do. Despite this, half of councils provide no formal training in this area.
The commission did not name specific examples of bad practice because it had given assurances of anonymity to ensure honest responses.
A Local Government Association spokeswoman said the case studies of good practice were useful but the report’s
negative tone was disappointing.
“The report takes a halfempty rather than half-full tone,” she said. “There has been a dramatic improvement in
councils rated ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ 0- up from 25% in 2005-06 to 60% in 2007-08.”