Councils go digital to improve services and save money

Improving the quality of adult social care visits, introducing live web chat for council taxpayers and an app that saves £20,000 in a year are just three examples of ways councils are using digital tools and solutions to improve services and cut costs.

A team covering the three councils of Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, and Hammersmith & Fulham has saved an estimated £2m. This is being delivered by cutting staff travel time by using mobile technology to collect, review and update case information for each adult social care visit.

Equipping staff with mobile technology also enables them to look up information about a resident while in their home and spend time showing them related information and resources, encouraging greater self-sufficiency.

This case study is just one of 13 in an interim evaluation of the Digital Experts Programme for the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales.


Digital tools

The Programme was established in March 2015 when the LGA agreed to fund 27 projects involving 42 councils. Its goal was to enable more councils to use digital tools and approaches already successfully applied by their peers. A total of £390,000 was awarded, with single councils receiving £10,000 and groups of councils being given £25,000. By early 2016, 13 of the 27 were judged advanced enough to be presented along with lessons drawn from their experience.

Also featured is the MyStaffsApp, a smartphone app offering access to a range of services provided by both county and district councils. It has been used in almost 40,000 sessions and Staffordshire County Council estimates that savings would be £22,500 if only a fifth of these avoided a call.

Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council estimated it was able to save over £7,000 in the period April 2015 to the end of January 2016 through its investment in live web chat, enabling users to shift from more expensive contact channels.


Further benefits

Between December 2015 and mid-March 2016 Test Valley Council received and processed 420 electronic change notifications for council tax. It estimates savings at over £2,000 if every notification received through this route avoided a customer telephone call and back office work.

It was also able to reduce the time taken to set up accounts, on house moves from three to four weeks to the same day, by introducing a digital Citizen Access tool for council tax.

A number of problems were also highlighted. These included the challenge of linking systems or transferring information. Feedback from these projects also highlighted the potential for unplanned costs to emerge, including the requirement to buy an extra licence for administration, or additional software to print transaction reports and review cyber security.

Cllr Warwick Lightfoot, Kensington and Chelsea Council Cabinet Member for Finance and Strategy, said: “The Digital Experts’ programme has helped our staff to identify practical improvements in the service they offer the public. The application of technology has enabled staff in the three organisations to work together more effectively and has reduced the cost of providing these services, the acid test of the use of digital technology in providing services in the public sector.”

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