Councils must invest in digital self-service now or face catastrophe

Suraj Kika, CEO, Jadu takes a look at why the need for digital self-service is greater than ever – and must happen now.

It has been reported this week that East Sussex Council is set to cut services to the bare legal minimum to avoid following Northamptonshire County Council into bankruptcy.

Disaster is no longer on the horizon, it’s staring us in the face.

To survive, East Sussex will serve only the most vulnerable under a ‘core offer’ that will see many services cut or shut down entirely. The services that most people expect – and rely on – from government could simply disappear.

We’ve been heading this way for a while as the spending power of our councils has shrunk by over a third since 2010. With no ability to raise taxes at a local level, local authorities have had the mammoth task of doing more with less. The storm has been coming, but for the likes of East Sussex and Northamptonshire (along with 15 other counties according to the National Audit Office), it’s already here.

A solution lies in effective digital self-service. If the majority of services can be accessed and managed online by the majority of digitally savvy citizens, then phone and contact centre resources are freed-up to help those that need it.

Pendle Borough Council is an example of a council that has undergone a digital transformation and seen a 95% reduction in contact centre footfall because residents are choosing self-service. 51% of all council/citizen contact and transactions are now made online (compared to 17% in 2016). Likewise, Lichfield District Council launched a fully integrated and automated garden waste service, signed-up 82% of customers online and generated over £800k revenue within the first four weeks.

There is no reason that such successes cannot be replicated time and time again. The reuse and sharing of solutions between councils, which are non-competing entities after all, may seem obvious, but is still rare.  Fundamentally, each council does variations of the same things and can certainly not afford to reinvent each time.

Instead, local gov must adopt the “Lego brick” approach to building public services and embrace standard “plug and play” parts, detailed in the Better Public Services report and accompanying manifesto.

We can no longer afford to talk about this problem as if it’s abstract. It’s at our door and digital self-service offers a solution that can be applied today.

Of course, this is all happening against a backdrop of Brexit. No-deal fears have pushed sterling to a 12-month low this week and the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has said the risk of no deal is still “uncomfortably high”.  In the short to medium term at least, the environment for local authorities looks like it will only become even more challenging. The time for action is now!

 

Published in GovTech Leaders, August 10, 2018.

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