06 May 2021

How our council leaders can continue digital progress

Guest blog: Martin McFadyen, Head of Public Sector, Virgin Media Business as part of our #DigitalPlace week.

Local councils face a multitude of challenges and responsibilities. These only increased during the pandemic.  

They have been a source of vital support and information for millions across the UK on issues such as health, financial support, and advice on home-schooling.  

While delivering these key services, council staff had to adapt to working from home too. During the first phase of the pandemic, 82% of local authority employees were doing so, according to research from the public sector IT association, Socitm (Society for innovation, technology and modernisation). This is up from just 5% before Covid-19. And response to their performance has been positive. 79% of the public were satisfied with the way local councils kept essential services going during the first national lockdown.  

Now, council leaders can afford to look ahead, knowing that they can do the work they need to do while working flexibly. To maintain support from the public they must continue to accelerate digital initiatives and invest in connectivity infrastructure. It is the perfect time to do so.  

Leading by example  

There will soon be new metro mayors and elected officials across the UK.  

And a key challenge for them will be how to invest in digital transformation to continue the momentum we’ve seen over the last year. 

But what exactly should they prioritise to deliver a truly digital city region and place? 

Digital transformation begins with infrastructure. Newly elected officials must review their connectivity services and IT capabilities to ensure that they can support new ways of working and deliver positive outcomes for communities.  

Hybrid working – with people working from home but also in the office a few days a week - is likely to become the norm. This means that popular communication tools, including Microsoft Teams and Zoom, will continue to be in use every day. Leaders should be upgrading their connections to support employee collaboration and to strengthen working cultures despite a distributed workforce.  

Advanced connectivity solutions are particularly important here. They provide the underlying flexibility and agility needed to support councils in automating repetitive tasks, boosting employee productivity, and providing sophisticated digital services for the public.  

SD-WAN 

SD-WAN is a perfect example of this. It is a cloud-based platform that provides network managers with greater control and visibility over bandwidth.  

It also uses encryption to provide local councils with added resilience – important given that cyber security has become a growing issue as teams work remotely, and more data is exchanged across networks.   

And local councils are increasingly recognising its importance.  

In Edinburgh, Deputy Leader Cammy Day leads the City of Edinburgh’s three-year smart city drive. He heralds the strategy as the “great enabler”. 

He has drawn on the power of connectivity to enable his team to transform their approach to CCTV, refuse collection and monitoring air quality throughout the city.  

In addition, automating elements of their landlord applications process meant 80% were done in three hours rather than three weeks.   

Crucially, these organisations don’t need to rip out legacy systems or begin an overwhelming transformation project. 

By choosing the right technology partner and provider, they can set in motion extraordinary outcomes through small, incremental changes.  

Seizing the opportunity 

Not only will digital transformation make lives easier for the public and public sector employees, but there is an enormous economic opportunity here, too. 

And it is one that council leaders should do everything to grasp.  

Our study with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) recently found that digital investment in local and central government and blue-light services could deliver a GDP uplift of £32bn by 2040.  

That is approximately 1% of UK GDP by 2040. 

Council leadership teams, both newly elected and more experienced, can use the momentum behind digital transformation that is happening across the country to strengthen local communities, improve the employee experience and contribute to the national rebound.