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Local authorities lagging behind in digitisation of citizen records

Nearly a third of councils can't tell how much citizen information they store is in digital format, study shows

As the UK government moves towards the creation of a national strategy to make better use of data across the public sector, recent research suggests that local authorities are lagging behind in terms of digitisation of citizen information.

The data was obtained from a freedom of information (FoI) request, issued by to 428 local authorities across the UK, with 263 (more than 60%) of them responding, in July and August 2020. According to the study, 31% of councils are unable to confirm exactly how much of the information they store and manage for local citizens is digitalised.

Some 40% of local authorities that have responded to the FoI request, issued by enterprise information management software company OpenText, have digitalised between 76% and 99% of the information they store and manage for local citizens, while only 11% have fully digitalised all of their citizen records.

The study has also found that, since 2019 or earlier, most of the responding councils the UK (80%) have been using a content services solution to store and manage citizen information, and such systems can be accessed by local authority staff when working remotely.

Content services systems to share citizen data with external third parties are in use at 49% of responding councils, according to the study. Conversely, two in five (40%) have no plans to implement such systems to share citizen information with government agencies and partners such as social care providers and private healthcare businesses.

Projects relating to data were at the core of the work carried out by the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI). The organisation was launched in 2019 boroughs across the capital pledging to collaborate on speeding up technology-led advances underpinning the delivery of local service provision.

In its first annual report, LOTI management noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the organisation’s “objectives and ways of working are more important than ever”, in particular when it comes to data.

“Tackling barriers to using data is vital – without good data, we can’t see what’s going on and who needs help,” LOTI’s programme manager, Onyeka Onyekwelu, said in the report’s foreword.

LOTI has worked with various councils to help them sophisticate their data initiatives, and has led projects such as City Tools, a platform aimed at helping local authorities get better value from the technologies they use, as well as initiatives focused on using data to improve services.

Earlier in November, John Whittingdale, minister of state for media and data at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), said at an industry event that the long-awaited UK national data strategy is nearly finished and will fuel post-Brexit and post-pandemic economic growth for the UK.

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