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Report highlights local government innovation

Charlotte Jee Published 15 October 2013

Thinktank identifies strong leadership, technology and collaboration as key to improving services

 

Strong leadership, making optimal use of technology, sharing best practice and exploring new models of service delivery are all crucial to improving local public services, according to research published today by local government thinktank Localis.

According to their report, titled ' Changing Places ', leadership is the single biggest driver of councils' capacity to innovate, with 96% of those surveyed identifying leadership, in particular from the chief executive and the council leader setting the direction together, as the main enabler for improving public services.

Respondents identified fostering a culture of innovation (69%) and strong partnerships (61%) as the next most significant influences for improving public service design and delivery.

The research, which was sponsored by Civica, found that local authorities increasingly view technology as a force for change and expect its use in public service delivery to increase. More than two thirds of councils surveyed ranked themselves as at least eight out of ten in terms of openness to technology-driven improvements to design and delivery.

88% said they were either considering or already using flexible and mobile working, with one interviewee saying its potential is 'enormous.' 83% highlighted delivering more customer services online- also known as 'digital by default'- as an area they are working on, while 81% indicated that using social media to engage with residents was an important tool.

Respondents placed a lot of importance on sharing best practice with other local authorities (82%) and 80% said sharing best practice should be a collective responsibility of the sector.

However, the research identified a number of barriers to change, including a lack of time and capacity (58%), constraints on budgets and costs (50%) and the culture of key partner organisations (50%).

The report listed a number of recommendations based on the findings, for example calling for change to be service-led rather than driven by technology and suggesting that local government should investigate and develop the use of customer insight data.

It also recommended that the government examine technological innovation both in the local and wider public sector with a view to sharing best practice, and proposed that government or groups of councils should consider the feasibility of council apps that could help with service transformation, such as a public transport app.

A further recommendation was that councils should consider the needs and spurs for each service separately and use this to identify who is best placed to deliver them, either via strategic commissioning, traded and commercial services, mutuals, shared services, co-design or other delivery models.

Steven Howell, senior policy and communication officer for Localis, and author of the report, said, "Our research suggests that there are a whole variety of different ways and means that councils are innovating in response to the twin challenge of reducing budgets and a changing society.

"While there are plenty of good news stories, local government needs to do its bit to highlight the barriers, then work with partners to bust them. More than ever before, partnership and collaboration will be the building blocks of local public services in the future."

Julian Wain, CEO of Gloucester City Council, said, "I've long believed that the debate about the pros and cons of the public and private sectors is age-old and simplistic. My view is that what matters is what works, and this report clearly identifies that. It reinforces my belief that the best results can be achieved when public and private teams work together."

In full, the report's key recommendations were:

  • Local government must continue to press the case - both locally and nationally - for greater partnership and collaboration across the public sector, working with partners across geographic and organisational boundaries to secure robust evidence of the efficacy of partnership concepts
  • Local government, as a sector, must consider how to assist those authorities that are unable to innovate and transform themselves into authorities fit for the future
  • Local authorities should take the best approach for each given service, considering the core needs and drivers, and, based on this, consider who is best placed to deliver them
  • Local government as a sector should consider how it could resolve the lack of clarity in sharing best practice
  • HM Treasury should work with local government on overcoming barriers to the transition to new delivery models more generally, e.g. the seemingly discouraging wider tax and regulatory framework
  • Local government needs to do more to prototype and pilot new models, building up a stronger evidence base. This will improve buy-in from partners and scale up new approaches to increase the benefits
  • Local government should continue to investigate and develop the use of customer insight data, as a way of better understanding their residents and complementing other methods of insight/ intelligence
  • Local agencies and agents of national bodies/departments to consider local information sharing hubs where practical and appropriate
  • The Commissioning Academy needs rapid expansion and fast tracking of local government employees, as it is they who are at the forefront of the commissioning agenda

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