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Updated: County to ringfence precept cash for ‘digital social care reserve’

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Essex CC will ringfence £7m of the total of £17m it will raise through its use of the social care council tax precept to invest in digital technology.

Stephen Canning, cabinet member for digital innovation, announced on Monday that the county would use £7m of the £17m per year it will raise by using the full 3% precept to investigate technologies that could reduce the pressure on traditional care services.

Cllr Canning told LGC the £7m will be used to set up a digital social care reserve.

He said the fund will be used to experiment with technology. “At the moment we don’t know exactly what we’ll spend that on,” he said.

The council was keen to explore the viability of an “Amazon-style” marketplace through which residents could find and purchase domiciliary care, he said.

“We will look to spend it on ideas. Some of that will be unsuccessful but hopefully by doing that we will uncover some solutions because we’re not going to solve the adult social care crisis by raising more taxes or by cutting more money out of it. The only way we are going to do it is by finding a new way of delivering it,” said Cllr Canning.

“I am keen to change the culture in the organisation so that [staff] know they can go out and take risks with that money. I want to make it clear that if you spend £100,000 investigating something and in the end that wasn’t the right idea, then that’s fine because hopefully one of these projects will work, and we’re never going to find the right one unless we try.”

Cllr Canning and David Wilde, executive director and chief information officer at Essex CC, spoke at the Smart Essex Digital Summit, an event the council hosted with BT for public sector organisations and private sector suppliers from the county to discuss digital innovation.

Essex also plans to make better use of data through a “data supermarket”.

Cllr Canning said: “We want to build a central place where we can put all of our data, but also other public sector organisations, private companies and individuals can also upload their data.

“People can choose to allow other people to make calls on that data for free, or for payment. So some people would see it as a revenue model – selling access to that data – other people, for example us, will just put the data up there because it’s good to expose it. We hope that by doing this people will use it to do exciting things, to solve some of our problems and to experiment.”

Cllr Canning said Essex would not make residents’ data available on the platform, but data relating to traffic, noise and air pollution, for example. He said the council may make its own data available for free, or it may choose to charge for some types of data or for some uses.

Mr Wilde said the data supermarket would be secure and data sharing would be appropriate.

“Essex is an exemplar of information governance and management and the key around digital is having a very strong position around data ownership and the rules around who can use it,” he said.

“Part of what we can bring to the party is to bring that experience and that knowledge and reputation into that market, to start to unlock that multi-use of data, within the rules and in the right way.”

This article has been updated. LGC originally reported that Essex CC’s social care precept would raise £5m in total and that this amount would be ringfenced for digital innovation, based on Cllr Canning’s statements. This has been corrected: the annual total raised by the precept is £17m and the amount ringfenced for technology is £7m. We apologise for the error.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Nothing like telling all the salesmen upfront - we have £7million pounds to experiment with!

    No wonder the Treasury doesn't trust Local Govt to get it right on Social care spending.

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