Headlines: April 4th, 2006

An agenda for radical change in the way local government delivers services has been published by a group made up from chief executives and other senior council officers. The members of the group represent local government on central bodies steering the public services modernization agenda such as the Chief Information Officer Council and the Service Transformation Board. The agenda for change is set out in a discussion paper ‘Transformational Local Government’. The paper picks up the themes in ‘Transformational Government’, the Cabinet Office blue print for taking public services beyond eGovernment which was published in November 2005. The aim of the paper is to trigger a conversation across local government about what “transformed local government”, supported by modern ICT, should look like.The discussion paper recognises that technology alone does not transform government, but government cannot transform to meet modern citizens’ expectations without it. The authors believe that local government is at a “tipping point”, where many strands of policy and practice are converging to give both the opportunity and need to change fundamentally. The paper sets out a vision of what might be achieved and a framework for action, highlighting in particular the role that modern information and communications technology can play. It is claimed that the paper is a starting point and will be followed by a process of discussion and engagement across local government and with other key stakeholders.

The framework for change is made up of three strands: Engaging with communities and citizens, reshaping service delivery and making it happen. Engaging with communities involves designing services around citizens and businesses and this requires understanding what they need and want. A full understanding can only come from making the best possible use of the information gathered through service delivery. This should be complemented by information about performance which must be passed on to communities to give local people more power.

Local government services have evolved in a fragmented way over time and it is widely recognised that service delivery needs to be more joined up. Reshaping services will involve greater standardization and widespread sharing of facilities. At local level this means challenging existing patterns of provision for services, both public-facing and internal and looking at consolidating certain activities regionally or nationally. An important driver for sharing services will be restricting central funding to councils that share services.

Making it happen, the final theme in the framework, will require investment in “hard” resources such as buildings, equipment and technology. But even more important will be “soft” resources such as skilled and committed Members and staff. For real innovation to happen, staff will need time outside their day-to-day commitments to service delivery. There is also a need to recruit people for emerging disciplines such as information management, business analysis and electronic delivery. The challenge is seen as finding sustainable ways of building the skills and expertise required in the future, and exploiting the current infrastructure to its full potential.

The authors of the paper claim that the document helps to underscore the distance that local government has traveled and the foundations that are there to be built upon. They express the hope that the paper will stimulate ideas about how local government can transform and how central bodies can help. They invite comments to itstrategyprojectteam@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk

The discussion paper is available at: http://www.localegov.gov.uk/en/1/1141816898495.html