“Digital is great but it isn’t everything, local authorities have to deal with the physical world like maintaining pavements and collecting waste.” This was one of the first things that John Comber said to me as we began the consultation and research that led to our White Paper on digital and technology for local public services.
What is clear from the research is that digital and technology are coming together in a way that physical objects are becoming digital. Society is changing and will change more rapidly. The FANG companies, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google and others are riding this wave of innovation and whilst they start out with a digital business model, they are increasingly taking over physical infrastructure. Amazon has warehousing and Amazon Fresh and Uber is one of the biggest investors in driverless cars.
This disruption has a downside such as competition with local retail and loss of tax revenue to name but two. There is also an increasing trust defect with these global players, which in turn creates an opportunity for local government. With its ‘can do’ attitude and trusted position, councils can, and some are starting to, act as the local Amazon providing a platform, not just for local public services but also for local business to thrive in this new world.
But as we adapt our roles to changing communities and enable our local areas to achieve a vibrant future, it’s evident that the tools, the skills and the very nature of our local authorities are going to change; not just how we deliver public services but the actual services we are delivering.
This means that the digital tools need to be flexible and affordable. Affordable enough to throw away many times over and use the ubiquitous and all-pervasive technology around us. Some digital transformations are investing large amounts of time and money in a way that fossilises the current business model of local government before we have reinvented it.
Whilst there is fertile ground for innovation, scaling up our successes is always the challenge. This is where sharing leading-edge innovation makes so much sense. Sharing the lessons, the methods, skills and the tools that we have used. So, if you have something to share in transforming local public services, then please let us know by entering the UK Public Sector Transformation Awards.