A public sector think tank has urged local authorities to prioritise the needs of people when going down the digital road to deliver services.
The New Local Government Network (NLGN) has published its O2-sponsored report as councils are continually having to do more with smaller budgets, and technology starts to take centre stage in helping them to cope.
The report says: "We know that technology exists that can benefit councils. But this report flags up the importance of prioritising the people, not just products.
"This is necessary to ensure that the technology that is invested in meets the needs of councils and citizens, does so efficiently and is fully utilised by both."
The report says digital services can unlock benefits for councils in three overarching areas, including the delivery of "better and cheaper outcomes" - , especially through "more integrated and person centred services"; the engagement and empowerment of citizens and communities; and "cleaner, greener and more economically vibrant places".
Although councils are starting to grasp the digital agenda, says the report, councils "currently lack the confidence and skills to invest in digital smartly" and "enact the culture change necessary for digital investments to be a success".
This presents a significant barrier to widespread digital transformation across the sector, the report says.
The three key barriers identified that are hindering progress are skills and organisational culture, leadership, and sector-wide leadership and coordination.
To move forward the report says councils must create a "leadership environment" and governance structure to make digital core to all government business.
They must also create a culture and workforce where staff and councillors are trusted to innovate with technology and are confident using and investing in it, and where "citizen insight and evidence" is used to manage risks.
In addition, citizens must be "engaged in the co-production of digitally enabled solutions".
The report goes on to say: "Whilst there is much that councils can do alone in relation to skills and leadership, we believe that more coordinated sector-wide collaboration is necessary to move the agenda forward.
"We therefore recommend a review of existing digital initiatives and the establishment of a local government digital programme to coordinate initiatives, and foster collaboration across the sector."
NLGN is also recommending the establishment of a "digital skills programme" to raise the profile of local government digital services to IT professionals, and draw skilled graduates into the sector.
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