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Solace blog

2nd October 2020

Local Government in a Post-COVID World

Local government in a post-COVID-19 world - supporting the shift in citizen behaviours and public service culture

It might sound counter intuitive, but the Coronavirus pandemic has provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for local authorities to radically rethink how they deliver services to their citizens.

After years of austerity-driven budget cuts, many councils were already struggling financially when the pandemic took hold. The combined demands of delivering services under lockdown, communicating with citizens quickly and frequently enough, and supporting affected businesses and communities ─ all with large numbers of staff either off sick or furloughed ─ has been an enormous challenge.

And when we do eventually emerge from this pandemic, some local authorities will face the very real possibility of yet more spending cuts, as falls in business rates, council taxes and income from parking and enforcement activities erode their revenues even further.

But with disruption comes opportunity. An opportunity to drive real change that goes beyond incremental tinkering. An opportunity to reimagine what a new era of digitally-enabled services might look like for citizens.

The status quo is hardly sustainable, so is it time for a more radical approach? Might a joined-up view help to make delivery of services more efficient and cost-effective? Just as private sector organisations are using technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to inform their business decisions, could local authorities use data to pave the way for better outcomes for their citizens?

Certainly, effective digital transformation can drive up productivity and resilience in the face of fluctuating demand. Look, for example, at how chatbots have been helping customer services teams during the pandemic, as they deal with surges in citizens’ queries and benefit claims. By taking the strain off customer service teams in such challenging times, chatbots free up agents to focus on helping the most vulnerable citizens who need personalised, human support.

Digital design and build ─ with data at its core ─ is the key to delivering smart services fit for the 21st century. Identifying vulnerable citizens, projecting service requirements smartly and underpinning these actions with the right technologies and infrastructure would surely enable councils to become more efficient, budget better and prioritise their services more effectively in the future. With the help of data, they could also provide services that are needed today and build them where demand is growing.

Imagine if our local authorities could predict where people’s needs were greatest and put preventative measures in place, rather than dealing reactively with challenges much later down the line?

Smarter services grounded in digital transformation can only improve the citizen experience and make local government leaner and fitter.

This post was provided by Capita who are participating in Reflect. Reset. Re-Imagine. A week of immersive virtual learning for public sector professionals. To secure your place and gain access to more insights from Capita and our other industry experts, click here.