Local authorities have had a rough ride in recent years and are facing huge financial challenges, largely due to similar reasons.
In a lot of cases the need for services, such as adult social care, is outstripping supply. At the same time, short term funding cycles and limited financial reserves means councils are unable to keep up with the rising costs of maintaining or improving services at the levels needed.
If we are going to address these issues and avoid more councils falling into financial troubles, fundamental changes need to happen now.
Play the long game
As a first point of call, local authorities need to move away from short term planning approaches. Budgets and targets are usually set on an annual basis, meaning future demands and circumstances can be left unconsidered and unaddressed. At the same time, the election cycle means senior figures can and do change frequently, with the same happening to their policies.
Local authorities need to change course and implement longer term business planning and funding models which will meet the needs of the community, both now and in the future. To do this, they need to harness their vast and multiple datasets on services, which have been accumulated over multiple years. By effectively analysing this information to see where issues lie and could appear in the future, they can make more informed decisions to target funding where it is needed most to produce long-term success.
Take a user-centric approach
Secondly, local authorities often have in place legacy systems which are costly and hard to use effectively. The money spent on these large, specially made digital solutions have far too often resulted in them being locked into expensive contracts and rigid technology roadmaps.
Local authorities need to move away from thinking that big, one off technology systems will be a silver bullet to the issues they face. By taking a user first, digitally minded approach, they will be able to better understand what they need and ensure the right decisions are being made on technological investments. It will provide them with greater insights of the pros and cons of different platforms. At the same time, enhancing existing digital solutions by bringing in tools such as lo-code platforms and artificial intelligence will make their current technologies more innovative and cost-effective.
Bring people together
Finally, most local authorities across the country have similar hurdles they are trying to overcome. Rather than working in silos, they should look to make the most of community platforms such as Local Digital, where they can gather to share and learn from ideas and success stories. Groups like this give local authorities a space where they can come together, share and discuss their successes, learnings and ideas on how to create better services, all of which can be taken away and replicated or implemented in their specific aerials.
The financial pressure on our local authorities, which provide vital services to our communities and are the fabric of our society, are not going to go away any time soon. However, this doesn’t mean actions can’t be taken to address some of these challenges. By supporting them to plan longer term, become more user centred and have access to collaborative spaces, we can help create a country where local authorities do not just survive, but thrive.
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