Digital – making the case for investment within local government

By Steven McGinty

In March, a report by Nesta and the Public Service Transformation Network suggested that local councils could save £14.7 billion by going ‘digital by default’ by 2020, i.e. moving all transactional services online and digitising back office functions.

However, this is not the first report to highlight the potential savings in going digital. In 2015, the Policy Exchange think tank published a report outlining how £10 billion could also be saved by councils by 2020, if they made smarter use of data and technology. Similarly, the Local Government Association (LGA) has published guidance on the benefits of digital technologies for councils, including financial savings.

All these documents make the positive case for digital. Yet, as discussed in a previous blog article, local government is still lagging behind when it comes to implementing new technologies. Jos Creese, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Hampshire County Council and Chair of the Local CIO Council, explains that:

It’s doubtful if any local authority is not making savings from digital investment. The challenge is being able to quantify savings.”

This suggests that if local government is ever going to achieve its ambition of becoming ‘’digital by default’, then attempts must be made to evaluate projects, to develop a strong evidence base, and to share examples of best practice. Below I’ve highlighted some projects which provide a strong case for investment.

Manchester City Council

In 2012, Manchester City Council decided to create a more responsive ‘mobile first’ website that citizens could access from free Wi-Fi spots around the city via smartphones and tablets. The website was developed by an integrated team comprising IT and marketing staff from Manchester City Council, and developers from the supplier. From the beginning, the team reviewed how people interacted with the council, such as how they asked for services and how they reported problems. The website was tested by members of the public, as well as accessibility experts and representatives from organisations representing blind and partially sighted people.

This website redesign has led to Manchester City Council saving £500,000 in the first nine months and winning a European award for website design and functionality.

Nottingham City Council

Nottingham City Council has introduced a workflow management app, replacing an inefficient paper-based system. The new app allows staff from customer services, highway inspectors and response teams to enter faults, such as potholes or damaged street lights, directly into the system. It then automatically allocates the fault to the relevant inspector and, once the work is completed, digitally signs it off. Residents are also kept informed via updates, as the progress of the work is linked to the initial order raised.

The council has reported that the app has created £100,000 in savings in less than one year. In addition, the improved monitoring of productivity has led to 40% field efficiency savings and 60% back office savings in the Highways department.

London Borough of Camden

In 2013, the London Borough of Camden introduced a programme to create a single source of residents’ data. The Camden Residents Index (CRI) used a technological solution to match different types of data with individual residents (allowing the council to have a single point of view for each resident’s data).

The CRI has been used for a number of purposes, including detecting fraud and managing the electoral roll. For instance, the index was able to identify 752 council properties that could have been illegally sublet. The council estimated that a quarter of these properties were reclaimed, saving approximately £18,000 per property and £3.4 million in total. The CRI was also able to validate 80% of data from the electoral roll (which is higher than the 50% rate of the Department for Work and Pensions, which usually validates the council’s electoral data). This increased match rate resulted in less manual checking, which saved Camden council £25,000.

Poole County Council

Poole Borough Council has recently moved towards using cloud-based services. They highlighted three main drivers for this change: complying with the Cabinet Office’s Cloud First Directive; improving the agility of services; and making the necessary savings to the information and communications technologies (ICT) budget. The move has already saved the council £60,000; with an additional £750,000 worth of savings possible over the next three years.

Conclusion

Local council leaders may be anxious about making the case for investment, but investing in digital should be considered as a necessity, rather than a luxury, for meeting growing citizen demands with fewer resources.

These are just a few, of the many examples, of how local councils have benefited from digital transformation.


Follow us on Twitter to see the developments in policy and practice currently interesting our research team. 

Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read our other posts on digital

Digital transformation in government: moving towards 100% digital

Mike Bracken, former Executive Director Digital for the UK Government, on a stage with the word 'Onwards' in the background.

Mike Bracken, former Executive Director Digital for the UK Government, speaking about  ‘The digital transformation of the UK Government ”  Image by gdsteam via Creative Commons

By Steven McGinty

On the 1st March, Companies House, the agency responsible for the UK’s register of companies, announced their intention to become a 100% digital organisation by the end of 2018/19. Over 80% of companies already submit their documents digitally, but the agency is keen to move this figure as close to 100% as possible, highlighting the cost savings and improved levels of service.

However, Companies House is not alone in its digital ambitions. ‘Digital by default’, the idea that digital services should be the most convenient option for people, has been a key policy aim of the UK government.

Digital Transformation programme

In January 2013, the government introduced its first significant venture into digital transformation. The programme, which involved the Government Digital Service (GDS) – the agency responsible for digital transformation – and eight government departments, set out to transform 25 major services in 400 days, with the aim of developing services that were simpler, clearer and faster to use.

By the end of the programme, in March 2015, twenty exemplar projects had been completed, including services as varied as enabling people to register to vote, making a claim for the Carer’s Allowance, and booking a prison visit.

“Death of the self-assessment tax return”

In the March 2015 Budget, the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced a major IT project, which he described as “a revolutionary simplification of tax collection”. At the time, 12 million people were completing self-assessment tax forms every year. But by early 2016 the government expected that five million small businesses and the first ten million individuals would have personalised digital tax accounts, bringing together all their tax details. By 2020, it’s expected that over 50 million individuals and small business will benefit from personalised digital tax accounts.

Although the project has generally been praised, Jamie Morrison, private client partner at HW Fisher & Company, has warned that – apart from the most straightforward cases – automation won’t improve the self-assessment experience. Similarly, Mark Abbs, a tax partner at London-based chartered accountant Blick Rothenberg LLP, has suggested that the five-year time frame might be too ‘ambitious’.

Investment in digital transformation

As part of the 2015 November Spending Review, George Osborne provided £1.8 billion over four years to support digital transformation initiatives.  This included supporting the move towards digital tax accounts, mentioned above, and the introduction of a simple payment mechanism for all central government services.

In addition to this funding, UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) – which works with businesses to ensure their success in international markets – received £24 million to simplify their online services and ensure they can interact effectively with other government services.

More surprisingly, the GDS was given a budget of £450 million over four years – an increase on its previous £58 million a year. This news was particularly positive for those connected with the GDS, as there was concern that their budget (and influence) would be greatly reduced.

Challenges of digital transformation

The biggest challenge to the goal of ‘100% digital’ is that not everyone is able to access digital services (and to a lesser degree those who have access but need support). In 2015, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that 14% of households in Great Britain had no internet access, with 31% reporting that this was due to a lack of skills. Other factors for lack of access included the cost of technology (14%) and the cost of accessing the internet (12%).

Elizabeth Rust, in a 2014 Guardian article, highlighted that often those who are digitally excluded need to access government services the most. She offered the example of a jobseeker who lost his Jobseeker’s Allowance because he struggled to access the internet to apply for jobs, particularly as limited access was available at his local library.

This highlights the challenge of achieving ‘100% digital’, and is why although HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are now moving towards digital tax accounts, there will still be an option to complete self-assessment returns in the traditional way.

In the 2016 March Budget, George Osborne also provided £71 million of extra funding to support the digital tax roll-out. These additional resources will be used to extend the opening hours of customer service offices that deal with online enquiries and tax credits.  These improved services should be in place by 2017, enabling greater levels of support for users of digital tax records.

Conclusion

Digital transformation provides a major opportunity for improving government services and reducing costs. It’s not a case however of simply replicating existing customer journeys within an online environment. It requires organisations to put people at the heart of their delivery approach. And in turn, this requires significant internal challenge and change.

The ambition for digital transformation will only succeed if the government invests in digital skills, provides services that encourage people to use them, and supports individuals as they adapt to new digital services.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read:

Digital Agenda Norway (DAN): international digital leader but still pushing forward

Split Norwegian flag flying in the wind

Image courtesy of Pixabay via Creative Commons.

By Steven McGinty

Continuing my series on digital government best practice, I will be looking at the success of Norway and what they hope to achieve through their Digital Agenda for Norway (DAN) strategy.

Norway is already a leader in “digital government”, ranking second only behind Singapore in a study carried out by Accenture on implementation progress and citizen satisfaction. The Norwegian State Secretary, Paul Chaffey, suggests that this success has been built on a foundation of a population of tech savvy Norwegians, with a history of being at the forefront of cutting edge technology.

For instance, in 1973 Norway became the first country to connect to the US’ ARPANET, which was the military predecessor to the Internet. And more recently, maritime and off-shore technology developments in Norway have become of global importance. In particular, the use of Big Data modelling plays a significant role in finding new oil fields.

Egovernment policy development

In 2000, the government presented the eNorway action plan, a set of ICT initiatives designed to support the development of the ‘knowledge society’ and improve the lives of the people of Norway. The plan consisted of descriptions of the individual ICT initiatives of ministries, as well as common frameworks to support joint initiatives.

This soon evolved into eNorway 2005, which had the main goal of developing a set of principles for ICT initiatives. From this, the government set out three primary targets for its ICT policy:

  • Creating value in industry;
  • Efficiency and quality in the public sector;
  • Involvement and identity.

Then, the government introduced eNorway2009, a strategy that would take Norway a ‘digital leap’ forward. It argued that the public sector had to be viewed as one unit, if digital progress was to be made. Therefore, the new strategy focused on the use of multi-disciplinary initiatives and projects. There was also a recognition of the need for cooperation between all sectors and levels of the public sector, as well as the private sector.

In 2012, the government also published a report on the digitisation of the public sector. It outlined the government’s key policy objectives for their digitisation programme – keeping Norway at the forefront internationally in terms of providing digital public services to its citizens
and businesses.

Major successes

  •  ID-Porten

A major development has been the implementation of the hub, ID-Porten, which verifies citizens via electronic IDs (eID).  It allows citizens to securely login to government digital services via a single login portal. There is also a common technical platform (ID Gateway), which allows citizens to login to services using four different eIDs: MiniID; BankID; Buypass; and Comfides.

BankID, Buypass, and Comfides all provide access to a high level of security (level 4). These IDs are required when accessing personal data and only issued to individuals who appear in person. However, MiniID provides only a medium-high security level (level 3) and pins codes can be sent via mail or through SMS. This is the most common eID (used by almost 2.7 million citizens) and provides access to digital services provided by the tax services and the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund.

  • Altinn.no

In 2003, Altinn was launched to provide a single web portal for public reporting. This was driven by the amount of time Norwegian businesses were spending on statutory reporting. To resolve this problem, the three large public agencies in Norway – the Norwegian Tax Administration, Statistics Norway and the Bronnoysund Register Centre – started Altinn.

However, the project has now moved beyond that of public reporting. Now it’s responsible for providing an array of electronic forms (over 700) and digital services, as well as providing information for businesses.

The most used service by citizens is the completion of tax returns online. In 2009, more than 440,000 businesses chose to do their statutory reporting through Altinn.

  • Regjeringen.no

This is the main information portal for the Norwegian government. It has a user friendly design and in many ways is similar to the UK Government’s website GOV.UK.

Digital Agenda for Norway (DAN)

In 2013, the Norwegian government published the white paper on the Digital Agenda for Norway (DAN).  The strategy is linked to the Digital Agenda for Europe, and is also related to the Europe 2020 strategy.

The DAN explains that the government’s primary goal is that:

Norwegian society take full advantage of the value creation and innovation opportunities that ICT and the internet offer.”

This has been the philosophy from the early stages of Norway’s digital development.

The DAN highlights that greater digitisation is inevitable but notes that it will be important to identify areas with the greatest potential for development.

In terms of the public sector, the DAN identifies a number of areas for development:

  • Public sector information – increasing the accessibility and reuse of public sector information.
  • Digital services for citizens – improving digital registration for property rights and creating a paperless justice sector.
  • Commons technical solutions – the development of digital mailboxes for citizens and businesses, the use of digital document exchange, and the creation of common registers to support the public sector.
  • Organising and coordinating for more efficient use of resources.
  • Adapting laws and regulations to a digital public sector – requiring digital communication to be the standard method of communication for the public sector.

Looking to the future?

Norway has earned their reputation as a ‘digital leader’. Over the years, the government has set out a series of clear policies to support the transition to the digital age. Although not perfect, significant improvements have been made. For instance, 93% of Norwegian households now have access to the internet; this figure was only 55% in 2003.

The new DAN presents Norway with an opportunity to continue the success of recent policy initiatives. And on recent evidence, this is a clear possibility.

However, with other countries looking to improve their performance in digital government, it will be interesting to see if they will overtake Norway in international comparisons or if Norway’s sustained focus will pay off and enable them to be the world’s number one in terms of using digital services to increase citizen engagement and improve service delivery.


Enjoy this article? Read our other recent blogs on digital government:

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

IDOX specialises in election services, with Idox Elections offering end-to-end solutions for electoral management systems. Idox was awarded a number of contracts to support the Norwegian municipal and county elections held in September 2015. This follows Idox’s success in delivering similar election services during the Norwegian General Election of 2013.

The Carnegie Trust and the Wheatley Group: showing us how we can tackle digital exclusion

By Steven McGinty

As the government pushes towards ‘digital by default’, a policy which envisions most public services being delivered online, it’s worth remembering that 20% of the UK population still lack basic internet skills. Groups such as Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) have raised concerns that ‘digital by default’ could significantly impact on vulnerable and marginalised communities, particularly those claiming welfare benefits. However, if every citizen had basic digital skills and could use online government services, it could save the public purse between £1.7 and £1.8 billion annually.

So, which groups are the most digitally excluded?

According to the UK Government’s digital inclusion strategy, digital exclusion occurs among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society. These include:

  • those living in social housing (approximately 37% of those digitally-excluded live in social housing);
  • those on low incomes (44% of people without basic digital skills are either on low wages or are unemployed);
  • those with disabilities (54% of people who have never been online have disabilities);
  • older people (69% of over 55’s are without basic digital skills);
  • young people (only 27% of young people who don’t have access to the internet are in full-time employment).

What are the main barriers to using online services?

In 2013, the Carnegie Trust carried out research into internet access in Glasgow. The findings suggest that there are three common reasons why people never go online:

  • the comfort of doing things offline (34% of people cited their preference for speaking to people on the telephone, or in person, as the reason they don’t go online);
  • a fear of digital technology and the internet ( 28% were worried about issues such as using technology and staying safe online);
  • the costs involved (20% of people highlighted pressures on incomes and the cost of internet connections).

What are the main drivers for people going online?

More recently, the Carnegie Trust carried out a new piece of research, replicating their Glasgow study in two new locations: Dumfries and Kirkcaldy. The study investigated the main reasons people choose to go online. The findings show that:

  • 56% of people went online to find information of interest to them;
  • 48% went online to keep in touch with friends and family;
  • 44% thought it would be an interesting thing to do;
  • 44% had to go online as part of their work.

 How can we encourage people to go online?

Both Carnegie Trust studies show that each individual’s journey to digital inclusion is different and that a ‘personal hook’ or motivation, such as the opportunity to communicate with family members abroad, is an important tool for encouraging digital participation.

Additionally, they also show that friends and family are an important source of help when people are taking their first steps online. For instance, the case studies in Dumfries and Kirkcaldy highlight that people would appreciate help from ‘trusted intermediaries’ or local groups.  Therefore, it’s important that digital participation initiatives make use of existing communities’ networks and tap into the support available from friends and families.

Wheatley Group

The Wheatley Group, which includes Scotland’s largest social landlord, the Glasgow Housing Association (GHA), has been heavily involved in addressing digital exclusion. They have developed a digital strategy to help social tenants access the internet and are committed to proving free or low cost internet access (maximum of £5 per month).

The Group has also been involved in two pilot projects: one which provides technology to 12 low-rise homes, and the Digital Demonstrator project, which tests the feasibility of low-cost broadband in multi-storey blocks. The pilot projects highlighted two important lessons:

  1. the role of the local Housing Officer was key for engaging with tenants
  2. it was important that communities and neighbours learned together.

In an ideal world, every citizen would be digitally literate, and be able to interact with government online. However, this is not the reality. The work carried out by the Carnegie Trust and the Wheatley Group provides a solid basis for developing digital initiatives and ensuring that citizens and communities are not left out.


Further reading: