Headlines: January 11th, 2012

Councils could save £3 billion per year by managing demand for services and changing citizens’ behaviour, according to new research from iMPOWER.

The report, Changing The Game, identifies a critical role for behaviour change in local government amid financial constraint and spiralling demand for services.However, the study also reveals the hurdles councils need to overcome to change behaviours, including a lack of trust between councils and their communities.

iMPOWER’s analysed council spending and performance data and carried out opinion research among 100 senior council decision-makers. The analysis extended over seven key service areas and found that reducing demand via behaviour change could deliver 14 per cent savings on average, equivalent to some £2.94 billion each year.

With two thirds of councils experiencing a growing shortfall between funding and demand for services, executives recognise the potential for behaviour change to unleash cost savings. The majority agree that traditional efficiency gains are no longer enough to unlock the resources needed to deliver the services their communities demand.

But senior executives admit that dysfunctional relationships with their communities represent a significant challenge to changing behaviours. A fifth of senior executives describe community trust in their authority as high, compared with 40 per cent a year ago and 45 percent three years ago. Only a third described community engagement as high, compared to 41 per cent a year ago and 44 per cent three years ago.

As a result, more than half identify scepticism among citizens and a lack of willingness to participate in community initiatives as significant barriers to achieving behaviour change.

Jon Ainger, Director at iMPOWER, said: “There is an urgent need for authorities to transform the relationship with their citizens. Behaviour change represents a game-changing opportunity for local government to readdress relationships with their communities and save taxpayers money. More constructive relationships offer the potential to generate savings by managing expectations in the short term, tapping into innovations driven by citizens in the medium term, and reducing need in the long run.

He added: “What’s needed is much more than a simple ‘nudge’. This will only happen if councils are prepared to lead the way and have the confidence to sustain the change over the long term.”