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Government opens new round of digital funding for councils

Grants of up to £350,000 will be invested from the £7.5m Local Digital Fund for local authorities to enhance their projects focused on innovation

The government has opened a new round of digital funding for local authorities across England looking to evolve their innovation projects.

The £7.5m Local Digital Fund, launched in September 2018, was part of the pledges made under the Local Digital Declaration, which aims to set out how councils can transform public services.

In this round, grants of up to £350,000 will be offered to lead councils, which must share projects aimed at improving public services for residents in innovative ways with at least two other local authorities.

Ideas could range from creating new digital offerings to pay for public services, to online ways to support vulnerable people, or even making bin collections, social housing repairs and taxi licensing services more efficient.

Digital skills and digital leadership training for council staff are also available through the funding initiative. Applications close on 16 September 2019.

“Councils are on the front line of exploring how we can harness technology to improve services while saving taxpayers’ money, said local government minister, Luke Hall. “I would encourage all councils with innovative ideas that focus on residents’ needs to apply,” he added.

In December 2018, the government awarded £1.3m to projects through the Local Digital Fund. In the first round, up to £100,000 was provided to 16 projects involving 57 councils.

Use of virtual assistants or chatbots such as Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri in social care is an example of the initiatives funded by the government in the first round. Birmingham City Council and two partners were awarded £69,300 for the project.

Another project awarded £100,000, led by Greater London Authority and four other partners, will look into providing better and more up-to-date information for planning departments by improving data collection.

Improving use of online payment service Gov.UK Pay across councils is another project that has been awarded funding, with North East Lincolnshire Council and four partners being awarded £52,103 for the project.

Discovering better ways for social housing tenants to report property repairs online has also received funding – London Borough of Southwark and three partners were awarded £80,000 for that purpose.

Other projects that received funding include the initiative led by Greater Manchester Combined Authority simplifying data protection impact assessments through using digital technology. Together with 12 partners, Oxford City Council has been given £80,000 to look at whether chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) can improve public service design.

Enhancing access to data to support decision making in frontline social care and improving software used by council planning departments are other examples of innovative projects that have received funding in the previous iteration.

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