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Local government minister Rishi Sunak has launched a Local Digital Declaration, aiming to set out how councils can transform public services.
The digital declaration, which is a joint initiative between the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Government Digital Service (GDS), comes with a pledge of £7.5m in funding to help local government be smarter about how to achieve digital transformation.
The declaration was co-published by more than 50 local authorities, central government departments and partner organisations. All the co-publishers have had input into how local government can best design services, challenge the tech market, protect privacy and security, and deliver better value for money.
The declaration said the aim is to “co-create the conditions for the next generation of local public services, where technology is an enabler rather than a barrier to service improvements, and services are a delight for citizens and officials to use”.
“We know that one size doesn’t fit all, but by developing common building blocks local authorities will be able to build services more quickly, flexibly and effectively. Only in this more open and flexible market will we unlock our full potential for innovation.”
To achieve this, the declaration sets out five principles. These include going further to redesign services around the people through “continuing to prioritise citizen and user needs above professional, organisational and technological silos”, and get rid of the dependence on “inflexible and expensive technology” that’s difficult to join up.
Instead, local councils should insist on modular building blocks and open standards to create a common data structure, the declaration said.
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Other principles include designing safe ways of sharing information, demonstrating digital leadership and embed an “open culture that values, incentivises and expects digital ways of working from every member of our workforce”.
The £7.5m in funding promised by the local government minister, aims to help councils achieve the principles. The money will be available in an innovation fund, which councils can bid for to help fund “common solutions to their shared challenges”.
The MHCLG will also create a delivery team, to support the councils in implementing the work.
“It will work with councils as equal partners to create the tools and conditions for reform, delivering common technical patterns and routes to procurement for core services,” the declaration said.
As part of its commitment to the declaration, GDS will make Gov.uk Notify and Pay available to local authorities, create a register of open standards and link GDS Academy training opportunities “to principles of the Local Digital Declaration”.
Need for collaboration
The co-publishers of the declaration include the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), techUK, Leeds City Council, the Greater London Authority, Innovate UK and Doncaster Council.
Commenting on the launch of the declaration, minister Rishi Sunak said that many local authorities are already “at the forefront of digital innovation”, but encouraged everyone who hasn’t already signed up to the declaration to do so.
“But there’s much more to do,” he said. “Digital doesn’t belong in the basement, it belongs in the boardroom.”
“I want councils and partners across the country to sign up to this declaration. By supporting each other and building on each other’s work we can revolutionise services for our residents.”
London’s chief digital officer Theo Blackwell, said in a Medium blog post that the declaration is hugely important and the first step in greater collaboration in local government. “The work in the declaration is a voluntary movement for change,” he said.
“I don’t see this as Whitehall telling local government what to do, but timely support for a digital makers movement already underway to champion service design, data and the foundations of digital collaboration.”