Councils are going to have to get creative if they are going to manage their diminishing budgets over the coming years.
The government spending review, published in November 2015, outlined that local authorities would receive an increase from £40.3 billion to £40.5 billion over the following four years.
However, this is a fall of 1.7% per year in real terms over the period. On the upside, though, town halls are being given more powers to decide how the money is spent.
It’s no surprise then that only one in 10 council chief executives are confident in their council’s ability to manage savings and nine out of 10 chief executives think some local authorities will get into serious financial difficulties over the current parliament.
But with the help of technology, and some innovative thinking, local authorities can provide more for less and ensure services are sustainable. A creative council can enhance the local area, attract business growth and tourism, and foster trust among residents.
Are you ready to get creative?
Move and share data online
The government estimates moving local authority and central government services and information online will save between £1.7 and £1.8 billion a year.
Setting up online data management systems that keep information about your citizens and their needs as well as integrating data can change the way you do business.
Use the data to check that services fit people’s needs, provide more effective, cheaper services, set budgets and make more accurate forecasts.
Having an integrated system will make it easier to report on your spending and show how you comply with financial standards. Cloud computing rather than an onsite data centre allows you to manage the information more flexibly.
Councils in Manchester, Salford, Trafford, Tameside and Stockport and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue worked together to deliver the Greater Manchester data synchronisation programme, a linked open data programme that allows the public sector to share information.
The programme will have a number of functions, including involving the digital and business community in creating new digital services.
Streamline your payroll and pensions
Managing complex payroll and pensions information online can mean providing those receiving them with more information about what they are getting.
For example, Leicestershire County Council allows staff to view their pension statement over the internet and to use an online calculator so they can plan for their future.
Online universal credit
Apart from managing data, councils also face the unenviable challenge of rolling out the single monthly universal credit benefit scheme. Claims will mostly be made online and local councils are helping claimants to move to digital channels by promoting the use of internet-enabled devices.
Buckinghamshire County Council has a mobile ‘better-off-in-work calculator’ app which is used particularly in areas where broadband coverage is poor. It also includes an ‘action’ app to help people identify and overcome barriers to work and support those who have been affected by changes in the welfare system.
North Dorset District Council gave claimants access to computers in local libraries with broadband and staff offering assistance. It also redesigned the online form so people with reasonable information and communications technology could complete it in 35 minutes.
Innovative frontline services
Local councils are turning to digital technology to transform the way they provide services.
Reading Borough Council developed a personalised virtual town website, Elevate Me, to give young people who are not in education, employment or training information and guidance on what steps they should take and on the agencies and processes involved in finding the right opportunity.
Meanwhile, councils have been using technology to improve the way they manage extreme weather conditions.
In Surrey gritters with location trackers and salt-spreading monitors responded to thermal maps showing which roads were most at risk of icing up while 11 weather stations across the county offered updates on air and road temperature and rainfall and salt levels. Last winter, Surrey’s gritters treated 67,000 miles of roads.
In Worcestershire, the county council’s gritting fleet was equipped with technology that could work out the salt spread-rates based on road temperatures so crews could more efficiently take roads ‘back to black’.
95% of councils also used Twitter to keep people up-to-date with weather forecasts, road conditions and gritting.
Better procurement processes
Savvy local councils are using technology to save money on procuring goods and services, which in 2011/12 cost local councils £58 billion.
They’ve been using procurement frameworks to get the resources they need through cloud-based services, email, apps and open source systems.
The London Borough of Hillingdon saved £750,000 a year by moving to Google Apps, while Shropshire Council’s Project Work in Progress open source website service saved £204,000 over five years.
Some councils are using e-auctions to get the best price for services and open up contracts to smaller firms.
Cutting costs by using GPS mapping technology has helped local authorities improve waste collection and develop more efficient service partnerships. Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council saved £300,000 a year, the District of East Northamptonshire Council saved £200,000 a year, and Middlesbrough Borough Council saved £150,000 a year, all using similar technologies.
Move transactions online
Moving transactions online and onto mobile devices has helped councils like Hammersmith and Fulham: its online self-service portal has saved £1.15 million annually, and 70% of households are registered.
Meanwhile, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham has moved all of its benefit claims online, reducing processing time by 30 days and saving £617,000 a year.
And at Spelthorne Borough Council, the Engage mobile app gave people online access and improved the way services were delivered – the app was developed and put in place in less than five months and ended up saving the council about £43,800 in the first year.
Video-conferencing and online publishing
South Tyneside Council uses video conferencing to cut travel costs and generate income for the council by hiring out the service to business and community groups.
Many councils are also cutting printing costs by only publishing information online unless people ask for a hard copy.
- Councils must get creative if they are going to manage their diminishing budgets over the coming years. Innovation can be make or break and decide whether or not the council survives – or thrives.
- Only one in 10 council chief executives are confident in their council’s ability to manage savings and nine out of 10 chief executives think some local authorities will get into serious financial difficulties over the current parliament.
- Setting up online data management systems that keep information about your citizens and their needs as well as integrating data can change the way you do business.
- Savvy local councils are using technology to save money on procuring goods and services, which in 2011/12 cost local councils £58 billion.
- Local councils are turning to digital technology and unified communication solutions to transform the way they provide key frontline services which can create a better resident experience, deliver more for less during austerity, and enable a more customer-focused approach to service delivery.