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New government needs to join things up

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By Martin Ferguson, Director of Policy and Research, Socitm

Even before the general election, this year has seen some parts of the country voting for change. For the first time, the 4th May saw voters in six combined authority areas of England electing ‘metro mayors’ with a brief to join up services.

Socitm believes the next government needs to accelerate digital thinking to improve the joining up of services. The new metro mayors may help achieve this, but many parts of the UK are working to generate place-based digital leadership through bringing together civil servants, councillors, chief executives and other senior managers for education and training.

Place-based work requires the breaking of organisations’ silo walls, and this has to include the integration of health run by NHS organisations and social care run by local government. The best areas have already introduced integrated digital care records. More needs to be done to share these records across the full spectrum of care and more areas need to follow. The process would be accelerated through a single information governance toolkit for government and standardised, model designs and digitally-enabled processes for key areas of health and social care.

Such sharing could be threatened without better cyber security, as the impact of the recent WannaCry ransomware attack on the NHS has demonstrated. This needs to include risk management and threat mitigation training for senior managers in local public services.

Socitm believes these issues can be tackled by building regional capabilities, with teams that can support the development of cyber security skills, health and social care integration, place-based data aggregation and analytics, outcomes-based service redesign and digital transformation and digital inclusion.

Many local authorities have been ahead of the game in developing locally-shared digital services, but need to do more to maintain this role. They need to improve recruitment and retention of staff, by investing in individual skills and organisational capabilities. Doing so should help councils to take advantage of new digital technology opportunities to deliver better services at less cost, but training budgets have been severely cut in recent years and private sector talent is neither wide nor deep enough to compensate. Councils also need to invest in leadership skills, to help their leaders move to focusing on collaboration to achieve better outcomes, and away from a managerial mindset driven solely by finance and targets.

Central government can help this happen by providing adequate seed funding to facilitate a quick and widespread transition to shared platforms where these make sense. Without such platforms, progress will be slow and patchy as existing council budgets cannot cope with both business as usual and transition programmes. Cost benefits, efficiency and better service outcomes will only if new seed money is invested. While the Government Digital Service is developing some potential shared platforms, although the business model for these remains uncertain. There is considerable potential for much more and the foundation for these already exists in local innovations and best practice. Only a determined effort will realise the potential and sort out how current and future platforms can be sustainably standardised and shared.

Achieving this will require the local public sector to draw on everyone with the talent to contribute, regardless of gender, background and age. “Local authorities should reflect the communities that they serve,” says Socitm’s president Geoff Connell. “Not only does this help us understand the people we serve, it also strengthens our ability to re-imagine how we do things.”

The new government will have a lot to do, and local authorities stand ready to help, but they need the right support and investment to enable the transformational changes required to achieve better outcomes in their places.

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