The United Kingdom’s ongoing austerity challenges has led to local authorities being subjected to massive budget cuts in a time of much needed digital transformation. Councils across the country have already made significant ‘efficiency savings’ over the past few years, but as long as austerity endures, local authorities will ultimately need to face the possibility of scaling back – or entirely dismantling – departments and services.
Even without budget cuts, the pressure on local authorities has been mounting for quite some time. An ageing population has resulted in the exponential rise in demand on the social care budget, which in turn, is projected to make social care completely unaffordable – with similar scenes being played out with increasing regularity across other areas of public service too.
Despite these challenges, local authorities are focused on delivering better outcomes for residents, businesses and communities, having seen some success in improving accessibility to online services and managing transactions digitally. However, like the wider public sector, councils still have a long way to go in delivering frictionless digital services. To challenge this head on, digital change must first be seen internally.
Digitising local authorities
Digitisation isn’t about creating a website or app in isolation. While streamlined and accessible digital services are needed, local authorities must first focus on digitising their back offices and internal process first, to see the type of digital transformation that benefits residents and relieves pressure on overstretched and overworked frontline council staff.
If applied properly – and accompanied by a willing and cultural shift in working – digital technologies can tackle ongoing budget cuts. Digitising labour-intensive paper-based admin, in conjunction with public facing apps that are integrated with back office processes, offers significant rewards that will contribute towards faster economic growth. This, in turn, will transform local authorities and ensure they are both better organised and managed.
By making an active move towards this change, services can be delivered responsively and in real time. Coupling this with an integrated IT system that allows data sharing across departments and organisational boundaries will allow frontline workers to focus on supporting citizens, rather than dealing with paper-based administrative tasks.
Digital services and apps in isolation may be helpful in the short term but won’t aid digital transformation unless local authorities are using the data captured from users wisely – like local authorities in New York are doing.
The Mayor’s office of Data Analytics
The pioneering initiative set up in New York allows the city’s civil intelligence centre to aggregate and analyse data from across city agencies, “to more effectively address crime, public safety and quality of life issues.” This has led to the creation of a whole host of mobile apps that benefit the lives and wellbeing of New York citizens. A few of these apps include:
- Notify NYC – real time updates for residents during emergencies
- donateNYC – a charitable app that helps residents both donate and find goods
- My DEP – enabling residents to pay water and sewer bills and track water usage
By digitising their back-end processes and integrating this with public offerings, New York authorities have been able to analyse the extensive amounts of data being generated throughout their communities, to be able to provide mobile apps and digital services that genuinely make a difference to the lives and wellbeing of their residents.
The challenge of doing this here in the UK is amplified by ongoing cuts to public services, and due to the isolation in which digitisation has historically been carried out by local authorities. By not establishing the foundations to integrate digital services first, local authorities cannot facilitate true digital transformation.
For example, the London Borough of Harrow made their transactions entirely digital and saved over £1.5 million. It is estimated that if all local authorities were to follow suite, they could save £1.8 billion per year – but with this being done independently of the rest of the country,
For example, the London Borough of Harrow made their transactions entirely digital and saved over £1.5million. It is estimated that if all local authorities were to follow suit, they could save £1.8 billion per year. But, with this being done independently of the rest of the country, there is nothing tangible to be learned from users, residents or services to improve and save money in the long term.
In making their transactions entirely digital, the Borough of Harrow and other local authorities haven’t radically transformed what they already do; they have simply reinvented the wheel by innovating with digital solutions to what already exists in paper form. The next step is to begin using that data in a way that can facilitate the type of digital transformation that is needed.
Connected councils: harnessing the power of mobile apps
Residents’ expectations of their local authorities have soared. The growth in the use of smartphones and tablets to carry out and perform tasks is what people are now accustomed to, and they expect local authorities to catch up.
Ian Finley, managing vice president at Gartner estimates that by harnessing mobile apps, local authorities could reach more than 90% of citizens, compared to 30 to 40 percent for web-based applications.
Using the Nutshell Apps platform to digitise back end processes and public facing services, allows local authorities to see the changes to services quicker, easier and much cheaper than anywhere else. Mobile apps result in natural improvements in quality of service and enables the workforce to become more productive and efficient, due to the lack of pressure on frontline staff.
Nutshell in action: local authorities in the north east are benefitting from our no code app development platform
Developing the MyStreet reporting app to support any mobile device, while getting it out to members of the public so quickly would have been impossible without Nutshell.
We were approached by Northumbria Police to support them in streamlining – and ultimately reducing – the inundation of 101 calls being made by well-meaning members of the public in Northumberland, who were reporting issues that were non-criminal in nature, for example: abandoned cars, broken street lighting and dog fouling.
Due to the extensive cuts seen across public services, as well as a disparity in working hours, meant that issues were often left unresolved. Nutshell’s involvement was to ensure the delivery of an app that could:
- Direct residents to the proper reporting channels
- Enable issues to be resolved more quickly
- Avoid wasting police time on unnecessary 101 calls
- Restore faith in over-stretched public services.
Upon initial roll out, the MyStreet app was saving Northumbria Police an incredible 150 man-hours every month, which equates to £22,000 worth of genuine police work Northumbria Police were able to reclaim – that’s an extra bobby on the beat each year!
Since the launch, MyStreet has been downloaded over 1,000 times and has helped streamline how incidents are reported and responded to across:
- North Tyneside
- South Tyneside
All the links within each individual MyStreet app are tracked, with each local authority being able to create reports based on specific links, to improve services within their community. For example, if there was an excess of graffiti reports in Northumberland, the council would be able to analyse and report on the data received from residents, to tackle graffiti in the future.
However, if the digital infrastructure to allow these local authorities to combine their app data existed, they would be able to analyse how people are accessing and using services, and how residents are engaging with their community, to improve both council services and indeed, how local authorities are organised and managed.
Connected Councils: MyStreet
The MyStreet app was easily replicated for the above councils, due to the nature of the services across local authorities being inextricably linked in terms of how they are executed. As such, for new councils looking to add MyStreet to their digital offerings, turn around is extremely quick, as it requires minimal tweaking before deployment. Our team of builders can have your own MyStreet app with you in a few days.
Nutshell can also support you on digitising the back-end processes associated with MyStreet in order to begin creating a digital local authority infrastructure that could spark a revolution in the delivery of public services.
To find out more about Nutshell, check out our Product Overview