26 May 2022

Guest blog: Local authorities are sitting on an untapped digital goldmine of data

Guest blog by Steve Thorn is Executive Director, Central Government at Civica

Civica’s Steve Thorn explains how local councils can further exploit the valuable data they already hold to transform their relationship with citizens and communities.

Picture this scene. A council revenue officer discovers that a household which has never missed a single council tax payment is in arrears for the first time. She checks Council records and finds the family have missed three monthly payments. Now, what the revenue official doesn’t know is that the same household is also overdue on its water and gas bills. The gas provider has sent a stern letter warning of possible court action, while the water company has taken a different approach of offering an alternative payment plan.

Armed with the knowledge that this household is clearly in some sort of financial difficulty, the revenue official proactively reaches out and offers a solution which is tailored to the circumstances this particular household find themselves in. As well as sparing the Council and the already vulnerable family the ordeal of going through debt recovery action, the revenue official ensures the outstanding debt is repaid – in full and in a way that works for the local authority and the citizen.

The above scenario is fictional, but it could just as easily be reality. All that is needed is a comprehensive picture of the household concerned fed by insights from multiple public services. In other words, high quality, accessible data. The challenge we face with data, is not that it’s hidden or in short supply, but rather that it is all over the place. Data which could be shaping better, smarter, more citizen-focused decisions is currently scattered across local and central government departments, in siloed databases, spreadsheets – even lever-arch files. Not only that, but it’s also often in many different formats, and frequently outdated.

Tapping into the data goldmine

So, what needs to happen for local authorities and the wider public sector to unlock the value of the data they are sitting on? A good starting point is what we in Civica term the “3Ss” – standards, skills and sharing.


It’s difficult to leverage data without consistent standards. Something as simple as different dates or name formats, for example, can make it difficult or indeed impossible to build up that valuable “single view” of an individual across local authority services. Consistent standards and rules for collection, storage and re-use of data also mean that users can work on it with confidence.


You don’t need to be a data scientist to work with data. Far from it. As private citizens, we use data every time we book a holiday based on someone else’s TripAdvisor recommendation. Local authority officials do, however, need to be able to understand and exploit data in a way that’s relevant to their role. Building skills at all levels of public service delivery – from front-office staff to the IT department – is essential to support better and smarter decision-making.


Finally, we come to sharing. Between them, local authorities, utility providers and wider public services sit on a wealth of invaluable data that could ultimately result in better service delivery. In the council tax example I gave above, if an employee knew that the debtor has an excellent payment record across all government services, they could make the best and most cost-effective decision tailored to the individual’s needs.

Becoming more resilient and responsive

Built on a solid foundation of standards, skills and sharing, smart software can help local authorities to become more resilient and responsive. Resilient, in the face of the known challenges they face today and the unknown ones they will face tomorrow. These range from the burgeoning cost of living crisis to the potential for more extreme weather such as flooding due to climate change.

Local authorities must also be responsive to the rapidly changing needs and expectations of citizens and communities who are more digitally literate than at any time in history. Local councils can use data-driven technologies to give citizens a voice, and gather and analyse insights to build better, smarter services.

Our councils and wider public services all have at their disposal the most important resource they need to help them achieve that ever-elusive goal: to do more, with less. By leveraging their vast data resources, sharing data where appropriate and investing in skills and digital technologies, they can deliver better and more cost-effective outcomes for citizens and communities.

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Steve Thorn is Executive Director, Central Government at Civica

About Civica: Civica is the UK’s largest software company focused on the public sector. With over 30 years of proven expertise, we hold an undisputed leadership position in our markets around the world: www.civica.com 




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