The last decade has seen plenty of change: austerity, outsourcing, channel shift and devolution. But has local government actually changed enough to meet future generations’ needs?
Certainly, with persistent pressure on budgets, more and more local authorities are looking at service redesign and demand management as well as opportunities for improving revenue generation. But are outcomes really any different from 10 or 15 years ago?
Recent research from Brunel University would suggest that in the digital arena the answer is no. The working paper, Digital Government: Overcoming the Systemic Failure of Transformation, finds that any changes have been mostly cosmetic and not delivered in terms of outcomes or return on investment.
The potential of technology to change policy design, implementation and administrative practice may have been missed as the focus has been on just doing things faster or cheaper. This includes driving people online rather than engaging with them directly, potentially alienating local residents and creating communities who feel disenfranchised with local politics.
Is self-service really going to improve local outcomes and create stronger, prosperous and self-sustaining communities? It may be a start, but technology should only ever be part of the solution. The real challenge for local authorities is harnessing frontline resources that will enhance the experience of citizens, reflect the priorities of local areas and add genuine value at the point of service delivery.
And it is happening. In the area of civil enforcement, for example, uniformed representatives are working out in the heart of local communities and have become a font of local knowledge as well as the voice, eyes and ears of the council. Encouraging the compliance of motorists is just part of their role. By creating technology-enabled frontline teams, they can identify and address antisocial behaviour, report faults with council equipment, recognise anything that is out of character in local places and provide support for citizens or major events or local incidents and become an increasingly important community asset and resource for the council.
Through a multi-functional approach to frontline services we have the opportunity to counter the diminished social interaction resulting from reliance on self-serve solutions and create an overall environment where there is less strain on local authority services. This will surely lead to better outcomes for all involved.
Luke Allen, director of communications, NSL