A properly funded local digital service, and much empowered in-house digital teams, are much more likely to reduce waste and duplication and deliver a better online user experience, than a single website for local government.
This is the conclusion of ‘Collaborating and sharing digital assets: towards a local government digital service?’ the latest briefing from Socitm. The briefing is the second in a series, part one of which set out why trying to create a single local government website was not a sensible or achievable approach.
According to Socitm, relying upon volunteer, grass roots activism (like the LocalGov Digital initiative), subscription-based membership models (like Socitm or Looking Local), is unlikely to deliver digital transformation at scale within the sector.
It is equally unrealistic to expect a sector where there is a history of patchy implementation of digital, and where funding is extremely tight, to change its approach suddenly without some sort of financial kick-start. In central government, for example, GDS has been heavily funded to create digital transformation.
Socitm sees LGDS as a team of advisors available to support top teams in local authorities in implementing digital strategies and associated transformational change, and to help identify and promote best practice and opportunities for sharing digital assets (including those already developed by the existing GDS).
Unlike GDS, LGDS would not be the primary source of systems development, although there may be opportunities for key shared transactions to be co-created through the team, with a view to their integration into local solutions. Digital development would continue to take place in – or be commissioned by – digital teams in each local authority, drawing on sharable transaction code as appropriate.
Corporate digital strategies would empower multidisciplinary digital teams to act like a mini-GDS within their organisations, advising and supporting colleagues in making the transition to digital systems and ways of working. LGDS would also support the joining up of local public services and their providers (including health, housing, social care, education, transport etc).
It might also initiate central-local collaborative digital projects in specific service areas identified as poor digital performers. The model of Connect Digitally, involving local authority service and digital teams, and existing and new suppliers, to co-create minimum standards for digital services, might be adapted for this.
LGDS might have the capacity to take best practice digital assets and shape and support them in a way that makes them easy to adapt in local authorities. Just a small level of capacity might make a big difference in the pace of improving websites and realising benefits from digital delivery of services.
For a local GDS to succeed in its aims individual councils would also need to find the political will to:
- commit to digital transformation and the disruption that may follow
- overcome resistance to change by service delivery silos
- invest in digital capacity in-house.
The incentive of a centrally funded digital programme, focused on the creation of a shared LGDS, would support local authorities in making this transition.