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Local councils could save £15 billion a year through tech, says minister

Tue 7 Nov 2017

Local councils could save as much as £15 billion through better use of technology, according to Secretary of State for Local Government, Sajid Javid.

Speaking at the Urban Tech Summit in Birmingham on Monday, Javid outlined the major flaws with local government policy on technology adoption, arguing that most councils find themselves far behind most businesses.

Half of all councils, for instance, take information that has been submitted online by residents, only to manually re-enter more than 50% of that data – a requiring an ‘army of bureaucrats,’ according to the minister.

Javid outlined the state of play in terms of digital adoption in local government, noting that the majority of councils now take online payments, as well as quoting statistics finding that most contact between residents and councils now takes place online.

Beyond that, however, there are major flaws – particularly in terms of using that data. “Much of that data,” Javid stated, “is then stored in siloed server stacks tucked away in the basement, with no sharing or joined-up analysis to improve the way councils work. Want to study the way services interact, or understand how and why different people access multiple services? Tough – you can’t.”

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The £15 billion quoted by Javid comes from Nesta, the innovation charity. Beyond the money saved, though, Javid noted the real-life benefits that could result from better tech adoption.

As well as improving basic processes like planning applications or applying for parking permits, Javid argued that a ‘more open approach to sharing the data government already holds could do so much to speed up the planning, construction and sale of the homes this country so badly needs.’

There is, however, a caveat. Quoting a well-known venture capital mantra – ‘fail again, fail better’, Javid accepted that the type of tech disruption that is popular in business can’t be so easily practiced when it comes to providing services for the public. “You can’t use social care, education and child protection as some kind of sandbox to try out new ideas,” he said.

Iain Jawad, director of strategic partnerships at technology and business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, agrees that there are challenges in implementing changes in government, but these can be overcome.

“Challenges to adoption are budget, capital expenditure primarily, which drives a need for more creative solutions from a service delivery model, and culture, with the low risk threshold identified as a constant challenge in adopting productivity enhancing solutions.

“One of the ways that central governments can support adoption of innovative solutions, as an example, is to support adoption by local government, by supporting program pilots that can be scaled.”

The Rise of Urban Tech report, written by Public, argues that the extreme squeeze on local council budgets creates a good environment for startups and innovative solutions, effectively forcing in smarter, more cost-efficient solutions.


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