Councillors 'not digital dinosaurs'

COUNCILLORS are not "digital dinosaurs" and are positive about how technology, automation and data can benefit public services, a new report has claimed.

Start of the Possible, from think tank the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), found councillors held strong views on the value of digital regardless of whether they were veterans or first-termers, metropolitan or district, leadership or non-executive.

However, it added, for a "small and vociferous cohort" digital exclusion and the fear of the digital divide is a major issue. This will not stop change but may impede its pace.  

The survey of more than 800 councillors across England found that tackling digital exclusion now and in the future is the number one digital issue for elected members.

Connectivity is also a concern, with a "strong and widespread" view that current data-sharing arrangements are not effective.

The survey found clear backing for digital having a role in devolution and a desire among councillors to be better supported in understanding more about technology and transformation.

"Successful digital transformation requires redesign on every level - workforce, customer service, progress, governance and technology - to make public services faster at doing things, more adaptable, able to share more information and do so securely," said the report's author Cllr Theo Blackwell.

"For this to happen we need to support digital leadership right across our cities and counties in order to make public services more effective and make a difference to the people and communities they represent.

"There is now a need for proper coordination between authorities supported by a new deal with Whitehall."

Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of the LGiU, said: "Much has been written about the shift to digital in local government and public services more generally. Such a shift represents an opportunity, almost uniquely, to drive down costs while simultaneously improving outcomes.

"But that's not just a question of doing the same things better online; it's about using digital as a way of thinking and connecting, of driving a cultural and relational attitude that changes how we think about what local government does and how it interacts with the communities it serves."