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Public sector could save billions through digital, says Nesta

Innovation foundation Nesta believes the public sector could save billions of pounds if it implemented digital strategies more quickly.

Against a background of deep cuts to public spending, Nesta believes public bodies could save £14.7bn per year by making “digital” the default option in many cases.

This is the claim of the Connected Councils report published in March 2016, available from the Nesta website and written jointly with the Public Service Transformation Network. It looks at what the situation for councils might be in 2025 and suggests that going digital would save money and would help improve the quality of service on offer in many instances.

The report includes best practice examples: New York City was the first city council to open up its data and use analytics to improve services; 80 percent of Copenhagen’s transactions now happen online; the London Borough of Harrow has saved £1.55m by moving transactional services online; and Leeds City Council is bringing together community groups and local tech companies to inspire innovation in elderly care.

There are numerous efforts in the UK around making entire cities digital. However, as any IT professional will confirm, there are issues around connectivity in certain regions – they are nowhere near as severe as they used to be but we are far from perfect in our implementations of broadband.

The report highlights four areas where citizens could be put at the heart of a digital provision of local authority service. These include saving money by intervening earlier when appropriate, facilitated by better communications; transformation of council operations internally; better tailoring of user services to include personalisation from the information that can be gathered digitally; and putting residents at the centre of local problem solving – although the announcement was thin on detail as to what this would mean in practice.

Nesta makes the point that in order for this to work, central and local government will have to work closely to define standards and to decide exactly what “digital” means.

Julie Simon, head of government innovation research at Nesta, said: “As budget cuts begin to bite councils have found themselves at a crossroads. Although digital technologies are by no means a silver bullet, they can help councils improve on the important services they offer; transforming their delivery, stimulating economic growth and ultimately improving the way they manage themselves and their resources.”

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