Small Pieces Loosely Joined: How smarter use of technology and data can deliver real reform of local government

Monday, 26 January 2015

Small Pieces Loosely Joined: How smarter use of technology and data can deliver real reform of local government

Synopsis

Local authorities could save up to £10billion by 2020 through smarter and more collaborative use of technology and data. 

Small Pieces Loosely Joined highlights how every year councils lose more than £1 billion by failing to identify where fraud has taken place. The paper also sheds light on how a lack of data sharing and collaboration between many local authorities, as well as the use of bespoke IT systems, keeps the cost of providing public services unsustainably high.

The report sets out three ways in which local authorities could not only save billions of pounds, but also provide better, more coordinated public services:

  1. Using data to predict and prevent fraud. Each year councils lose in excess of £1.3 billion through Council Tax fraud, benefit fraud and housing tenancy fraud (such as illegal subletting). By collecting and analysing data from numerous different sources, it is possible to predict where future violations are most likely to occur and direct investigative teams to respond to them first.
     
  2. Sharing data between neighbouring councils. Sharing data would reveal where it might be beneficial for two or more neighbouring LAs to merge one or more services. For example, if one council spends £5m each year on combating a particular issue, such as investigating food safety violations, fly-tipping or pest control, it may be more cost-effective to hire the services of a neighbouring council that has a far greater incidence of that same issue.
     
  3. Phasing out costly bespoke IT systems. Rather than each LA independently designing or commissioning its own apps and online services (such as paying for council tax or reporting noisy neighbours), an ‘app store’ should be created where individuals, businesses or other organisations can bid to provide them. The services created could then be used by dozens – or even hundreds – of LAs, creating economies of scale that bring down prices for all.

Since 2008, councils have shouldered the largest spending cuts of any part of the public sector – despite providing 80% of local public services – and face a funding shortfall of £12.4 billion by 2020. Some are doing admirably well under this extreme financial pressure, developing innovative schemes using data to ensure that they scale back spending but continue to provide vital public services. For example, Leeds, Yorkshire and Humber are developing a shared platform for digital services needed by all three councils. Similarly, a collaboration of public sector organisations in and around Hampshire and the Isle of Wight is developing ways of sharing data and helping neighbouring councils to share content and data through the Hampshire Hub.

Testimonials

Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins:

“Can-do councils are already delivering multibillion-pound savings through embracing the digital age and the efficiencies this new dawn offers to them. But as this report shows they can go much further and town halls should now be tapping into these new opportunities to make the necessary savings to protect frontline services and keep council tax down for hardworking families.

“Local government accounts for a quarter of all public sector spending and should therefore play its part in reducing the inherited deficit. This could include doing more joint working, getting more for less through smart procurement, tackling local fraud and council tax arrears, or utilising their reserves and surplus property.”

Richard Copley, Corporate ICT Manager Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council:

"Local Government has spent 5 years cutting back. We haven’t just cut to the bone, we’re now scraping the bone. This activity has taken massive amounts of cost out of Local Government and we have achieved savings on a scale that the 2010 versions of ourselves would have derided for being so large as to be the stuff fantasy.  
 
"Despite this we find ourselves with a set of 2015 Local Authorities which are not so different from their 2010 counterparts. Certainly our organisations are very much smaller in terms of headcount – but we persist in doing the same things in the time honoured fashions.
 
"It’s time for us to call an end to the half-decade of inward focus – of salami slicing and thinning out – that work is at an end. We must now look outwards as we enter the second half of Local Government’s Decade Horribilis with our eyes on the real prize – changing the way we work by blurring, or entirely removing, the boundaries between many of the public sector organisations.
 
"Like it or not The State is in rapid retreat and the shrinkage won’t be reversed anytime soon. There are Darwinian forces at work here and the measures set out in this report will give the smart organisations the tools to evolve their way back from the brink.
 
"It’s all about information – how we create it, how we store it, how we protect it, how we share it and how we exploit it. This report explains how clever exploitation of information and technology will help Local Government and the wider public sector to, not just survive, but thrive."

Related Staff

small pieces loosely joined: how smarter use of technology and data can deliver real reform of local government