Public Services > Local Government

LGA sees interoperability at heart of council innovation challenge

Neil Merrett Published 03 June 2016

Initial findings released from ‘Digital Experts Programme’ outline early benefits and risks to be overcome from sharing digital service work among peers


The need for interoperable systems and effective information transfer has been highlighted among common challenges facing local authorities in devising or adopting digital solutions and tools into their operations, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.

Pointing to early feedback from its 'Digital Experts Programme' that has been devised to help fund 27 different council projects to potentially expand systems and new ways of working, the association said several issues were raised in an 'interim evaluation' of 13 initiatives now underway.

As well as linking up systems, the feedback also noted concerns around the potential for unplanned costs to arise during a transformation project, such as for licensing or spending on further software to support printing transaction reports or cyber security review functions.

Having been set up in March 2015, the Digital Experts Programme was established by the LGA as a strategy to aid organisations in adopting digital tools and approaches developed by other authorities, with £390,000 being awarded to both individual and groups of councils to support their work.

David Simmonds, a councillor and chairman of the LGA's Improvement and Innovation Board, said the findings indicated how councils were looking to establish innovative new ways of service design.

"The Digital Experts programme gives a helping hand to those councils who are keen to draw on the learning of their peers and quickly implement what has worked well elsewhere, and the results make interesting reading," he said.

"It is great to see councils learning from each other and adopting the digital tools which have already been developed. We want to support the sector to share these assets more effectively so there will be bigger benefits for more councils."

According to the LGA, digital initiatives within the programme include the introduction of web chat for council taxpayers and an app aimed to save £20,000 a year through efficiency and cost savings.

"A team covering the three councils of Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, as well as Hammersmith and Fulham has saved an estimated £2m. This is being delivered by cutting staff travel time by using mobile technology to collect, review and update case information for each adult social care visit," said the association in a statement.

"Equipping staff with mobile technology also enables them to look up information about a resident while in their home and spend time showing them related information and resources, encouraging greater self-sufficiency."

Other case studies noted in the feedback included Test Valley Council processing 420 electronic change notifications for council tax linked to council tax from December 2015 to March this year.

The authority anticipates £2,000 in savings could be made if all notifications received like this removed the need for telephone calls and back office work. Other suggested improvements include curbing the time needed to establish accounts through a digital citizen Access tool to support council tax system

Elsewhere, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council claimed it had saved more than £7,000 from April 2015 to late January 2016 by investing in live web chat that can enable users to switch over from more expensive contact channels.

Councillor Warwick Lightfoot, Kensington and Chelsea Council Cabinet member for finance and strategy, said the Digital Experts Programme had served to support more practical improvements in how services are offered to the public.

"[The] programme has helped our staff to identify practical improvements in the service they offer the public. The application of technology has enabled staff in the organisations to work together more effectively and has reduced the cost of providing these services, the acid test of the use of digital technology in providing services in the public sector," he said.

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