It goes without saying that the past year has thrown up challenges that most of us never thought we would face, and the public sector is no exception.
There are a few major challenges that those working in local government are facing at this time. First, take the pandemic, which quickly put monumental pressure on local services with teams delivering them remotely at short notice. This pressure created a need for councils to rewrite their entire business strategy in response. Secondly, the ever-present financial black hole that many councils face has only grown bigger. And finally, there is a lot of uncertainty around upcoming reforms to the structure of local governments and a drive towards the creation of more unitary authorities. This uncertainty has created a kind of ‘analysis paralysis’, with the whole idea of restructuring being consigned to the back shelf while teams have been focused on fighting the pandemic.
Despite these enormous hurdles, councils have risen to the challenge in many respects. Remote working is now the norm – first by necessity, now it could be by choice – and solutions have been spun up to provide accessible digital services where previously they were bound in red tape and ideas were progressing slowly. At Arcus, we have successfully delivered a number of service applications to local authority customers during national lockdowns, and the fact that we already had remote capabilities in place meant our ways of working didn’t constrain us. Through all of the daily challenges, services provided by councils have become convenient and accessible to every demographic, and important decisions that affected peoples’ lives were made over video link. With the firefighting over, what happens now?
What do we do with all of that momentum? In the last week or so, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced that it was terminating its decision to allow councils to hold virtual public meetings. Once again we see calls for the public to have physical access to council and committee events, despite services successfully being delivered remotely for the past year. If Zoom was good enough last year, why is it suddenly a roadblock to good service delivery? Services that were previously only available face to face have been accessible from afar, cutting down on travel time, emissions from transport, and physical queuing, to name just a few of the benefits.
We need to change the agenda from ‘doing digital’ – spinning up temporary solutions to a temporary problem – to ‘being digital’, seriously considering how cloud-based tech and digital services can change peoples’ lives for the better on a more permanent basis. Our agenda shouldn’t be reactive, it should be proactive. Sticking things in the cloud for a while won’t solve fundamental problems with access, reporting, and overall citizen engagement. It’s an end-to-end process that won’t be any less effective once the pandemic dies down.
There are already so many pressures that councils face during ‘normal’ times, let alone during the days of the pandemic. In the face of a possible move to unitary authorities and the need for digital services growing only stronger, let’s simplify it. We can narrow it down to a single question: does this solution improve peoples’ lives? If the answer is no, then scrap it. If the answer is yes, then build on the momentum we already have and make it happen for now, and for the long-term.
Originally posted here