The Audit Commission is encouraging councils to make better use of information as a way to improve services through better decision making. This is part of a public service wide move to sharpen up information management. The paper from the Commission follows a Cabinet Office publication last year on ‘The Power of Information’. The National Archives and the National Audit Office will shortly publish ‘Why Information Matters’ which will look at the importance of improving information management from a central government perspective.
A survey by the Commission revealed that councils could make better use of information. It also showed that strong performing councils typically make better use of information than those with a lower star rating. There is evidence of some good or excellent use of information in 45 per cent of authorities. However, this rises to 70 per cent for those gaining 4 stars, against 61 per cent of those rated 3 star,and only 10 per cent of those councils rated 1 or 2 stars. While over 70 percent of councils were taking positive steps to meet the information challenges set by shared priorities, the evidence suggests that there is substantial scope for most councils to be better at exploiting information.
The Commission’s paper quotes examples in the private sector where companies have developed acompetitive edge by exploiting information. Tesco has tracked the shopping habits of up to 13 million British families for more than a decade through its Clubcard, making good use of a lot of data on customers and their behaviour.
Effective use of information has also been developed in the public sector. Middlesbrough Council has identified hotspots for anti-social behaviour by analysing police crime incident data, its own records of incidents including graffiti, fly-posting and abandoned vehicles and CCTV footage. From this analysis it developed responses to target hotspots and it has succeeded in reducing both fear of crime and anti-social behaviour. This includes a 90 per cent reduction in fly-posting.
Improving the use of information is a strategic objective of Audit Commission and it plans furtherwork on the use of information in the Comprehensive Area Assessment, where the risk assessment will look at the use of information locally.