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Socitm: Local government should take leaf out of Government Digital's book

David Bicknell Published 16 November 2012

Group argues councils should follow GDS digital leadership example


Public sector managers group Socitm has welcomed the new Government Digital strategy and suggests it offers a good opportunity to review thinking about digital services in the local public sector.

It believes local government should draw on a number of its principles and actions and local public services "would do well to apply."

In the latest briefing from Socitm Insight, the group reminds readers that the Government Digital strategy has been written for central government, and goes on to describe key differences in the governance of local public services, the nature of the services themselves, and the ways in which they are delivered to citizens.

Many local public services, for example planning applications, or social care delivery, involve a complex range of interactions leading to a final outcome, and these require a sophisticated range of digital services to complete the full process.

However, central government departments individually deliver relatively few services, which tend to be in a single line of business with very high volumes (e.g. car tax). Single-tier local authorities by contrast deliver more than 700 services, most of which are low volume.

Insight argues that while large scale central government operations have tended to outsource transactional operations, leaving in-house functions without technology platforms or IT management capability, relatively few local authorities have the same degree of vulnerability, one of the key issues the Government Digital Strategy seeks to address.

It adds that the strategy puts great emphasis on the need for digital leaders and the new role of service managers to drive change and suggests that with channel shift now an essential response to times of severe financial pressure, this focus on digital leadership must be applied locally.

Just as the strategy proposes a 'digital by default' service design standard, based on user needs, to provide a consistent and high-quality online experience across all services, including a range of mobile devices, the Socitm briefing makes it clear that every local public service should adopt the same principle of putting such a standard in place.

The Government Digital strategy stresses the need to stimulate the demand for online services, and again, says Insight, this can be applied locally and need not be costly. As the strategy suggests, existing staff in offline channels should be proficient in online processes and promote these by word of mouth to customers, an approach Socitm says it has been advocating 'for many years'.

The need to base service decisions on accurate and timely management information is another key principle Socitm believes must be better applied locally.

Under the strategy, government departments will be required to submit data that will enable measurement of service performance around four key indicators: cost per transaction; user satisfaction; transaction completion rates; and take-up levels.

Socitm says that every local public service should run a similar dashboard, comprising at least these four critical indicators and use it as the way of measuring the impact of channel shift for reporting to top management.

"In addition, and to take proper advantage of digital technologies and the opportunity for cost saving channel shift, local public services need to address 'a major information gap'" says Socitm Insight's Martin Greenwood.

"While the Government Digital Service now has information about offline and online use of central government's 650 transactional services, there is a paucity of similar information available from local authorities. We recommend that every local public organisation starts now to collect systematically such information about their top ten or twenty services by volume and adds this to their dashboard."

The Government Digital strategy will be debated at the Socitm 2012 Conference in Birmingham on 27-29 November 2012.

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