Headlines: February 13th, 2006

Local authorities are being urged to realise fully the potential of mobile IT and to adopt ‘m-Government’ in the delivery of local services and governance arrangements. The independent think tank, the New Local Government Network, says people’s widespread use of mobile technology will not stop at interactions with commercial companies and it is warning that change is unavoidable. Councils, it says, face a stark choice of leading that change or hoping that existing structures can cope.The report, “Cutting the Wires: Mobile IT and the transformation of local services and governance” has been produced by eGovernment commentator Michael Cross and NLGN’s James MacGregor. It draws on current practice to show that trailblazing local authorities are making a real difference to the lives of people and communities. It also outlines examples of what might result from officers and councillors interacting through m-Government.

The report sets out key policy recommendations for local and central government and for companies supplying technology. It calls on local authorities to transform their working practices and relationships with citizens by using mobile IT to realise benefits for citizens, service users, officers and politicians. It also recommends adopting performance management software systems to use data collected with mobile devices and to incorporate mobile IT commitments into existing strategies. NLGN also urges authorities to lead the development of effective and responsible data sharing at local level and wants to see the development of an innovative culture, gathering support from politicians and senior officers for innovative approaches and creative solutions. Finally it recommends that councils are accurate and transparent about the cost of mobile IT projects.

Among the recommendations for central government is a call for it to fund an exemplary mobile local authority to go beyond current pilots and to show what local government could look like in 2012. It also wants the government to recognise the reality of the digital divide and says it is central government’s responsibility to ensure everyone can use electronic public

The authors say, “Councils can choose to lead and direct this process of change, moulding attitudes and giving direction both within and outside local government, improving performance and rejuvenating the relationship between the citizen and representative. Or, local government can choose not to pre-empt these changing expectations and hope that existing structures for representation and service delivery can cope with evolving expectations. The latter would, without doubt, present a significant risk to the future relevance of local governance in the UK.”