Digital plays a key role in the shift to new ways of working for local councils, offering the opportunity to respond to changing public digital demand and to make efficiency savings.
Streamlining local council services
Keeping children safe, making sure vulnerable people have their needs met and working to promote public health and provide social care can be a challenge at a time when local government finances are under pressure.
But unified communications and collaborative working along with new powers enabling councils to keep all cash made from the sale of assets and raise extra money to fund social care can help local authorities rise to the challenge – and put into practice the government’s agenda of shifting power to authorities.
Why should you collaborate?
Local authority heads of services are already talking to and working with other agencies and across departments to share scarce resources and information, tackle common or ‘cross-cutting’ issues like fear of crime or social exclusion, and avoid duplicating services.
Council leaders are convinced that joint working is the way forward – in 2025 44% are likely to work in partnership with others on technological innovation, 41% on outsourcing whole services and 41% on streamlining services and making efficiencies; only 6% said they would do everything in-house.
Does your collaboration have the hallmarks of success?
Working with other agencies to streamline your services can save you money, make provision more effective and build the council’s reputation as a local leader in the community. There are different kinds of collaboration – from formal types where organisations are merged into one unit with shared goals and a separate identity, along with a long-term vision, to informal networking arrangements, where a loose agreement to share resources and support activities leads to a short-term collaboration. They can involve sharing services with local charities to get information about vulnerable citizens or outsourcing services completely.
But what makes for a successful partnership? One obvious key requirement is strong leadership, particularly in the first stages of a collaboration – getting the chief executive or council leader involved can help see a partnership through its early days. The leadership might change as the project develops.
It’s important to set your sights on what can get the best results for local people rather than what individual partners might get out of a collaboration and it goes without saying that relationships between partners need to be built on trust. Getting things set up quickly rather than letting plans drift and being able to deal with risks effectively are also crucial. And it’s important to measure the cost benefits of collaboration to find out what the return is on your investment. This will help you plan for the future and make you accountable.
Communication is also crucial. Staying in touch with your partners and keeping up with developments can be easier through technology like video-conferencing so you don’t have to meet face-to-face and cloud-computing, which allows you to share information.
How are councils working in partnership to streamline services?
Local authorities across the country are joining forces with other agencies to provide a number of services, like helping vulnerable people in the community, tackling unemployment and deprivation and raising awareness of difficult topics. They are working with partners in health, bringing together health and care records and gathering data from across agencies to support integrated commissioning.
For example, Leeds and Cheshire local authorities have been working on integrated digital care records. The project involved merging key information from the partners’ separate systems into a single web-based application. The councils believed integration would help provide more joined up care and offer value for money.
Councils working on the government’s Troubled Families initiative have been using technology to strengthen partnership working , which in turn has led to a better focus on families that needs support.
For example, Manchester City Council extended access to its database of information through secure web log-ins to a wide range of local partners, including NHS Manchester. As a result, work to identify families eligible for support through the programme grew and not only have more families received support, but the council has also been able to build a more complete picture of the issues the families face so partners can better meet their needs.
Meanwhile, Buckinghamshire County Council collaborated closely with four district councils as well as agencies such as Jobcentre Plus, Citizens Advice and other voluntary groups, to develop a web-based universal benefit calculator tool, which was tailored to the local area. It allows advisors to provide people with information on how they might be better off in work. Two other tools were also developed to deal with the area’s poor broadband connections – a mobile offline version of the benefit calculator, which can be used in different locations on tablet devices and a My Next Steps app to help advisors prioritise applicants and make referrals and search for local organisations that can offer support.
Although welfare is mostly the responsibility of the district council, the county council is involved in the partnership to strengthen its leadership role and ensure vulnerable residents are protected.
Meanwhile Lewes District Council uses a secure cloud-based collaboration tool not just to work with its own staff and the public but also with partners, such as probation and criminal justice services. The tool allows staff across the partnership to provide effective case management and agencies to work in a more joined-up way.
How are partnerships sharing knowledge to inform services?
Along with providing services, partnerships can give local authorities access to education institutions’ knowledge to help them back up decisions they make about services. They’ll also be able to share the costs of the research.
Southampton adult social care services teamed up with Southampton University on the Care Life Cycle Research Project, which looked at the ageing population and demands on health and social care in UK. It used information on the older population’s health and living arrangements and a range of other characteristics from local and national data sources. It also included local health and social care providers’ data on their services and planned changes. The research outlined whether helping carers support older people could cut the demand for more expensive local authority support. It’s been used to predict the demand for social care in the future and to get an overall picture of the role local authority services play.