Past president’s welcome: Thinking about our journeys to better places
This is my first trip back to Cardiff since last year, when we had the President’s Conference at which our very own Huw McKee became President of Socitm. Being back in Cardiff is fantastic as it’s a lovely city. It has made me think about journeys, including those we are on as individuals, as organisations, as cities and as a country.
Think of the journey this city has been on. I walked around Cardiff yesterday and you can see this in the architecture, the people and the services being provided. That is true of almost everywhere you go in the country, including big cities like Birmingham, the little market town I’m from and rural areas of Wales. Different cities, towns and places are on different parts of the journey but regeneration is happening everywhere, because you can’t stay still and nothing ever does.
Sustainability and connectivity come into this. So many of the conversations I have with stakeholders in my organisations are about the importance of connectivity. If you can’t get online, you can’t deliver and access services that way and in the 21st century world you are left behind. It is incredibly important for our citizens, wherever they are.
I was lucky enough last year to go with Socitm to Christchurch in New Zealand for an international conference. You probably know that Christchurch was hit by a massive earthquake some years ago which took out about 80% of its commercial buildings, as well as a lot of housing. Seeing what the city is doing in terms of its regeneration journey, such as repurposing areas rather than just building back what they had before and thinking about what they need, was absolutely fascinating. It is building in connectivity and sustainability and regenerating what it has as a city.
The possibilities we have to create inclusive, safe, sustainable and resilient places are endless. But it is about the communities and the people that sit at the heart of them, which are different in each place. It is incredibly important that we build our places around our communities and people, so they don’t just become buildings and services that don’t mean anything to them. How can people be included, how can we make sure that the poor and vulnerable are empowered in that journey so they come with us? How do we make sure that we build those cohesive and resilient societies that we need so much?
We’re not going to answer all of that today – it’s a conference with a limited number of people – but we can ask the questions. Having the discussion and hearing different views is really important.
Socitm immediate past president; assistant director of digital services, Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council
This is an edited version of Sam’s welcome to Socitm’s Share National event held in Cardiff on 25 April. View the slides from the event
Panel: local data is stronger when shared
Local government needs to combine and share its data to provide useful insights and build better services, according to panellists at Socitm’s Share National event at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on 25 April.
“Local authorities are awash with data but are not awash with insight,” said Pye Nyunt, former head of insight for the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the borough had combined data it held on social care clients with the local clinical commissioning group’s patient data. The council was able to use this to identify 11,750 local people who would probably qualify for shielding, weeks before the government passed on its official list of 12,500.
“Because of that, we were able to get out to those vulnerable people and keep them safe,” said Nyunt, adding that the borough saw significantly fewer deaths among those shielding as a result. He now runs the Impera Analytics initiative of the Social Progress Imperative, a US data non-profit organisation, which aims to provide local authorities and others with localised data analysis linked to measures of social progress.
Jenny McEneaney, a senior improvement policy adviser for the Local Government Association (LGA), said local authorities should see themselves as custodians of data, which means sharing it with communities, organisations and the private sector where appropriate. A good example is the Great British Public Toilet Map, a map and database of more than 11,000 publicly-accessible toilets built by researchers at the Royal College of Art, particularly to support those with incontinence. It was launched nationally in 2014, partly based on Freedom of Information requests to nearly 400 local authorities. “It shows the power of data to being an innovator outside local government, that also benefits the communities that local government serves,” she said.
“Local authorities are awash with data but are not awash with insight”Pye Nyunt, Impera Analytics
McEneaney added that the LGA is working to support councils in their use of data including cybersecurity through the newly-launched Local Government Digitalisation Almanac, developed with Socitm and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace). The LGA is also working with the Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service on how its One Login single sign-on project for central government could also be used by local authorities.
Kate Lindley, head of customer transformation for Socitm Insight, said local authorities have got better at designing digital services around people, but finding the data to support these can be undermined by poor data standards and difficulties matching records. “We talk quite a lot about think big, start small,” she said.
Health and care need connecting says NHS Wales IT head
Connectivity is vital to delivering public services, Mike Emery, chief digital and innovation officer for health and social care at NHS Wales, told the event. “I would argue things like broadband and access to 5G is almost a public health issue,” he said. “If people haven’t got that infrastructure and we increasingly make services digitised, they are excluded.”
He added that this could be tackled by promoting cheaper social broadband tariffs available to those on benefits including universal credit and pension credit, through doctors prescribing tablet computers where appropriate and by helping patients, carers and staff to make good use of technology. It is common to see passwords taped to the side of computer terminals in NHS premises, something which could be tackled through better sign-on services.
Emery, who moved to NHS Wales in January from NHS Herefordshire and Worcestershire, is developing a digital strategy for health and social care that will include skills development. In his previous role in England, the area had discussions about a locally-branded app covering both sectors. The NHS Wales app, currently in private beta, has NHS branding but he added that thought will need to be given to integration with local organisations.
“Broadband and access to 5G is almost a public health issue’”Mike Emery, NHS Wales
It is vital to join up technology services for the individual, Emery said. A hospital doctor once prescribed his daughter, who has epilepsy and autism, a drug to which she was allergic despite this being in her GP record. The only reason she didn’t take it was because her family spotted the danger by reading the ingredients. “There are real, serious risks if we don’t get this right for the individual,” he said. This means developing higher levels of citizen trust on how their data is used and shared: “It’s almost a social contract with communities – if you share your data it can make a big difference to your friends and family.”
Emery said that how artificial intelligence works needs to be better understood. He recently tried asking the ChatGPT service questions about health and data: “It came back with a very racist joke regarding Wales,” he said. This is because the system draws on material found online: “You need to be very savvy in how you use this.”
Use hardware for longer to cut waste and CO2
Extending the life of computer hardware then recycling kit properly greatly reduces the environmental impact of IT operations, Simon Townsend of cloud software provider IGEL told the event.
He said that around 7% of electronic waste globally comes from computers and smartphones. Sales of laptops and desktops rose during the Covid-19 pandemic to support flexible working. Standard four-year replacement cycles as well as new hardware requirements for Microsoft Windows 11 could lead to many organisations scrapping these over the next year or two. However, desktop virtualisation can allow personal computers to be used for as long as eight years, he added.
As well as cutting electronic waste, using hardware for longer also cuts greenhouse gas emissions significantly as most of those generated by using a laptop come from its manufacturing, Townsend said, as well as mining and extensive water requirements.
When hardware is no longer usable, IT asset disposition services provided by many suppliers will securely wipe storage devices then reuse, repair or recycle equipment as far as possible.
Hybrid working needs some work finds Top Talent
Hybrid working can benefit both employers and employees but needs to be introduced with care, members of Socitm’s latest Top Talent training cohort told the event.
Elis Jones of Vale of Glamorgan Council told the event that organisations wanting to introduce hybrid working should develop toolkits and team charters as well as review employment contracts. Employers should generally support individual staff preferences on working patterns and work locations and provide them with equipment to work from any location.
Research by Stanford University suggests that staff working remotely are around 13% more productive than those in an office, although some also experience more stress, Josh Hadley of Socitm Advisory added. However, other Cambridge University research has found that remote working can also reduce productivity: “If you’re in an organisation with systemically low morale and no real plan to deal with it, then it’s possible that hybrid working will accelerate the trend towards demotivating staff,” he said. Risks can be lessened by line managers improving their soft skills including setting up new routes of communication with staff.
“If you’re in an organisation with systemically low morale… it’s possible that hybrid working will accelerate the trend”Josh Hadley, Socitm Advisory
Other members of the group discussed the technical issues involved. Jeff Smith of Neath Port Talbot Council said remote working should provide employees with secure and reliable access to all the critical systems they use at work, through technologies such as virtual private networks and cloud-based software, along with effective IT support. Dan Hunt of IP Networks recommended a zero trust security approach through which all systems have to be accessed securely regardless of location.
Mathew Hensham of Isle of Anglesey County Council discussed ways in which organisations can test remote working’s performance. This can include monitoring the results of online learning, holding cyber breach workshops, sending staff what appear to be phishing emails, looking at software logs and gathering feedback from staff.
Nita Sparkes of Neath Port Talbot Council said that it is essential that organisations have clear policies on who can and cannot work from home and recognise that individuals vary in whether they can work this way.
“You are going to have to give your staff a bit more trust in this area and stop micromanaging,” she added.
View the Top Talent cohort’s report on remote working
Nations and regions news
City of Edinburgh Council is installing 11,000 sensors in bins to track fullness, 500 sensors in council homes to predict repair need and adapting CCTV points to provide wi-fi, council leader Cammy Day told a conference in Taiwan.
Swansea Council’s cabinet has agreed spending of more than £2 million over two years to improve its digital services, with planned projects involving parks, recruitment services and the city’s new community hub at an old BHS store.
Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council has agreed a new five-year contract to adopt cloud-based services including for Office 365, backup, disaster recovery, storage and record management, with its existing provider Eir Evo.
Republic of Ireland
Meath County Council has started accepting planning applications through a national system piloted by Tipperary and Galway. It is the 13th council to do so, with the rest due to by autumn this year.
Middlesbrough Council has introduced wireless printing from people’s own laptops, tablets and smartphones to some of its libraries. The service also works from recently-introduced Hublet tablet computers.
Yorkshire and the Humber
Calderdale Council will use digital twin technology to develop an energy plan for its area as part of its net zero work to decarbonise the borough, covering transport, buildings and renewable energy, with climate technology provider IES.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority has published its first annual social impact report, which notes that nine of the area’s 10 boroughs offer targeted digital support for disabled people.
Nottinghamshire County Council is leading work to provide more than 350 public buildings including libraries, rural schools and GP surgeries across 10 Midlands local authorities with gigabit broadband, with £8 million from central government.
Dudley Council has involved residents in developing a new MyDudley online platform through two workshops. When launched later this year it will allow people to report and request a range of services online, with phone and in-person support available.
East of England
Broadland District Council and South Norfolk Council, which share operations, are preparing to implement Civica’s cloud-based software for revenues and benefits including a self-service portal for residents.
Oxfordshire County Council has provided gigabit-capable fibre internet connections to more than 90 public sector sites in the county through supplier Neos Networks and is on-track to connect around 200 by the end of 2023.
Devon County Council will trial smart road gullies on roads with sensors in four locations used to inform clearing schedules and warn about flooding, according to a procurement notice.
Lewisham Council has been told by the Information Commissioner’s Office to respond to all its outstanding Freedom of Information requests and publish a plan to mitigate any future delays.