Research published by CACI exposes the scale of the challenge faced by some councils in moving services online; just days after the government encouraged wider web use in its Digital Inclusion Strategy.
Despite a call from Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles for councils to “embrace the digital age”, CACI’s data suggests many local authority areas face an uphill battle in reaching “digitally deprived” groups on their patch.
The research tracks for the first time how far service users in every local authority are likely to engage with government services online; and in more detail highlight a tremendous gap between well networked inner-London councils and more digitally disenfranchised districts elsewhere in the country.
The councils in the UK facing the most worrying levels of “digital deprivation” include Sandwell, Knowsley and Kingston Upon Hull; all of which cater to significant percentages of service users who may never have owned a smart phone, sent email, or used the internet.
Districts in inner-London look set the weather the transformation successfully, with consumers in Kensington and Chelsea being most likely to research local government services on the web.
Top 5 local authority districts with communities most likely to research local government services online*
– Kensington and Chelsea, 27.5%
– Westminster, 24.4%
– Camden, 23.8%
– Hammersmith and Fulham, 23.6%
– Islington, 22.7%
Top 5 local authority districts with communities least likely to research local government services online*
– Sandwell, 14.9%
– Knowsley, 15%
– Kingston upon Hull, 15.1%
– Leicester, 15.20%
– Stevenage, 15.2%
*UK average = 17%
CACI conducted the study using its unique “Acorn” segmentation of consumer demographics and lifestyle, and believes the data provide an invaluable guide for councils seeking to increase their digital footprint without alienating large groups of constituents.
The organisation argues that Local Authorities should do the following to reach the digitally deprived in their community:
· Put systems in place to increase awareness of local government services online;
· Create education and training schemes to reassure and engage the local community;
· Reach out to these groups in parts of the community in which they congregate and feel safe, which is particularly important for those groups who may need significant reassurance.
On top of this, local authorities will need to reach out to middle aged families living comfortably in suburban locations, categorized by the Acorn classification ‘Steady Neighbourhoods’. Less than 14% of this group are likely to research local government digital channels, and close behind are ‘Countryside Communities’ where the figure is just over 15%.
Finally, local government commissioners will have to engage the struggling elderly, categorised as ‘Poorer Pensioners’. This group looks set to be left in the dark with almost 40% having never used the internet – this is well above the national average of 20%.
Patrick Tate, Associate Director in CACI’s Location Planning Group, said:“Local Authorities under pressure to “embrace the digital age” must plan services carefully to ensure they do not leave digitally deprived consumers behind. Moving services online presents opportunities to reduce costs while widening access, but only if it is done in a way that engages whole communities.
“If local authorities want to save money in the long run, they need to invest in ensuring the digitally deprived in their community are not left behind. They need to identify those groups in their community that are digitally disengaged; be prepared to engage with them locally, be it the community center or bingo hall; and be proactive in providing advice and opportunities for education.”