Digital exclusion tops local government digital concerns, study finds
LGiU research undertaken by Camden Council's Theo Blackwell warns of fears among elected officials about a digital divide, as well as challenges with connectivity and data sharing
Digital exclusion is seen among select number of councilors as a key concern facing authorities, even with wide backing for further adoption of digital solutions by councils, a new report from the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) has found.
In a report for the organisation by Theo Blackwell, Camden Council's Cabinet member for Finance, Technology and Growth, information from 800 councillors was compiled to grant insight into digital leadership and how councils may best move forward.
Blackwell argued that the research showed it was incorrect to label councillors as “digital dinosaurs”, citing widespread positive views among local government workers about technology, data and automation of public service functions in order to benefit authorities.
However, the findings accepted that for a “small and vociferous” group of councillors, digital exclusion and a fear of a digital divide was seen as a factor that could impede wider progress and the overall pace of digital change among councils.
“Tackling digital exclusion is still the number one issue now and for the future amongst councillors. Connectivity also remains a concern and there was a strong and widespread view that current data-sharing arrangements are not effective,” he wrote.
According to Blackwell, attempts to improve public services via digital transformation require a broad redesign plan that incorporates workforce, customer service and governance, as well as technology.
He said digital leadership was required by city and county authorities alike to ensure more efficient change.
“This research shows that the vast majority of councillors are not 'digital dinosaurs', but hold positive views about the application of technology to public services and how councils should work together and share data," Blackwell wrote.
“We need to translate that into action. There is a good foundation built by those leading councils who have set out bold digital plans. There is now a need for proper co-ordination between authorities supported by a new deal with Whitehall."
LGiU chief executive Jonathan Carr-West noted that a shift towards digital transformation by local government should be viewed as an opportunity to curb costs with more efficient ways of delivering key needs.
“But that's not just a question of doing the same things better online, it's about using digital as a way of thinking and connecting, of driving a cultural and relational attitude that changes how we think about what local government does and how it interacts with the communities it serves," he said.
The research, which was conducted by Blackwell and the LGiU and supported though funding from the Sandy Bruce Lockhart scholarship, took in the views of 808 councils representing 278 separate councils, amounting to 79% of authorities in England.
In total 55% of respondents represented district council wards. All regions in the country were represented, with the majority (23%) of authorities coming from South East England.