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Local councils should have a digital leader at board level, says TechUK

Industry body calls on local councillors to have a digital-first mindset, drive transformation and ensure local authorities have digital leadership in place

TechUK has set out guidance for local councillors on how to ensure the right leadership is in place to drive digital transformation in local authorities.

The guide, Council of the future: A digital guide for councillors, calls for councils to ensure the culture and leadership is in place to drive uptake and use of digital technologies. 

“Councils need to build an understanding of digital into their organisation at the executive level, so that the leadership can recognise how and where council services can be transformed by new technologies,” it said.

TechUK added that councillors can be at the forefront of transformation by asking the right questions and ensuring digital leadership at the top. 

“Digital needs to sit at the boardroom level as it underpins and works across all services. This should be recognised at cabinet level with a dedicated digital portfolio,” the guide said.

It added that a chief digital officer (CDO) at board level will ensure collaboration and smarter procurement, and can act as a main point of contact for working with industry.

Embracing digital can increase the efficiency of public services, making budgets go further and dealing with the challenges faced by local councils, the guide said. 

Revenue opportunities can also be opened up across the region by investing in digital platforms and services that the private sector can use to innovate in the area, it added. 

Georgina Maratheftis, programme manager for local government at TechUK, said that by grasping the digital agenda, local councillors can “be at the forefront of spearheading the transformation of their area into a ‘smart community’ where citizens are empowered to shape services and create the places where they want to live”.

Read more about local government and IT

  • Local Digital Declaration, which sets out five “principles of internet-age local public services”, is backed by £7.5m in government funding to help councils transform services. 
  • Digital minister Margot James is building a new initiative to support collaboration on 5G mobile network roll-out at a local level, bringing together councils, landowners and industry to work on planning challenges and policy.
  • While local councillors are generally positive towards the benefits of digital technology, concerns include exclusion, connectivity and unsatisfactory data-sharing arrangements.

She added: “We hope this guide will act as a useful tool for both the new and incumbent councillors to have the right conversations about digital. The case studies in the guide show that digital is more than just achieving cost savings, but about breaking down barriers, aiding collaboration and renewing local democracy and trust.”

Councillors should also put user needs first, taking a “citizen-centric approach” and tackling digital exclusion, the guide said.  

“As part of the digital portfolio and council digital strategy, elected officials can work with officers and community partners, from schools to libraries to the voluntary sector, to tackle digital exclusion and give residents more choice in how they engage with their public services,” it added.

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