The so called age of austerity may not be anything especially novel to those working in local government.
Councils have been operating in a cash-constrained environment for some time and, as a result, they are a hotbed of IT-based innovation and innovative thinking. Financial constraints have meant they have had to think about ways of delivering services for less - without reducing capacity on the frontline - and many of those services have been transformed using IT. In the age of austerity, central government could learn a great deal from local authorities.
Recognising how local authorities are leading the way in innovative service delivery, Intellect along with our partners Socitm and SOLACE set up the Local Government IT Excellence Awards. Those awards, now in their 15th year, have recognised some of the very best examples of local authorities that have used IT systems or processes to improve the efficiency and delivery of services within their communities.
The London Borough of Hackney, for example, which won an award last year for its Citizen Index project, has transformed the relationship between the people of Hackney and their local authority. Using bespoke technology to unify a collection of specialised systems, this long-term programme has been rolled out across the business, enabling service users to interact with the council 24x7 and with all their needs being met in one contact. Not only has this resulted in a more efficient service which has saved the council real cash but it has improved customer satisfaction.
Highly commended in the same category last year was Crawley Borough Council which transformed street cleaning services using a combination of e-forms, a CRM system, GIS maps, SMS text messaging, e-mail and a series of web calls which means information from the customer is passed to the team that will sort out the problem with no paperwork or administrative overheads. Moreover, progress can be tracked online and citizens are informed of outcomes on completion of work.
What both of these examples highlight especially is how keeping the customer in touch with progress towards a solution and making their interactions with their council as efficient as possible can improve their experience and impression of their local authority. More demanding customers who are used to interacting with private sector services online will understandably expect more responsive public services from their local authority.
Local authorities may have streamlined and made significant savings in recent years but they will not escape the need to make further savings in the future. "Doing more for less" has become something of a mantra for those working in the pubic sector but it may be especially pertinent for those in local government.
The Decentralisation and Localism Bill is a key plank of the coalition government's programme and the Conservative localism agenda. The Bill aims to give local authorities more autonomy over their budgets and services such as planning. However, with that autonomy comes responsibility and delivering that effectively will mean even more pressure on local authorities' finances.
IT partners and their ability to innovate will be more important than ever. Opportunities to showcase and share expertise from one authority with another will also be increasingly valuable. We hope that the Local Government IT Excellence awards is one way to share that best practice effectively while rewarding some of the pioneers in innovative public service delivery.
Carla Baker is head of information management and assurance programmes at Intellect, the UK's IT trade association.
The Local Government IT Excellence Awards 2010 is open for entries until Monday 2 August 2010. If you are interested in this opportunity to highlight IT-based innovation within your local authority, please contact Carla Baker on 020 7331 2164, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Intellect's website to download the brochure and application details: www.intellectuk.org/itexcellenceawards.
This was first published in July 2010