What aspect of Digital Transformation do you think has the ability to cause the biggest changes to Local Government and why?
“That’s hard isn’t it? We’ve seen major digital disruption have an impact on the outcomes of Elections, and referendums recently across the world, and it’s possibly just getting an understanding of how some of these new digitally-driven methods of communication work. Actually, that is half right – I think the biggest disruption is the expectations it builds up in consumers of Local Government services. It means that the people I represent here in Witney and West Oxfordshire are using digital technology in all sorts of areas of their lives very well at the moment, and they have a high expectation that Local Government will be able to respond to that as well and will be able to offer convenient, and actually quite transformative or innovative new services by using digital technology. It’s not yet the case. There are small changes – you can pay your parking fines online now, but that’s not very helpful and it’s not transformative in the sense that it’s still a transaction, which is a very traditional one. It’s not a new service.
In fact, digital technology often seems to be used to catch more people committing traffic offences and then put money into government coffers in a more efficient way, and that’s not terribly transformative.
It’s certainly not getting to the guts of what digital transformation can offer, but I do think those expectations – the fact that more and more citizens have expectations I think of government and particularly Local Government – which they’re currently not seeing met; the opportunity though is to transform not just the way that Local Government does business – memos are out and emails are in – so there are some efficiencies you can drive through better communication through digital technology, but it’s also about rethinking the role of Local Government. There’s a possibility for Local Government to reimagine itself again, going back to core purpose, as the champion of collective and cooperative enterprise, within their community. It becomes an enabling organization not just a delivery organization, so that a Council can be seen as a place where people can come in order to put together their own efforts, to support their community, rather than just a place to lobby for somebody else to do something for them. It would be terrific to think that in 10 years time, West Oxfordshire District Council (where I am a councillor) will be the convening place, will be an enabler for communities to self-organize, to organize their own services, as well as still delivering services. There’s no question that that will go away. It won’t, people need bins, collecting people need social care, these things will continue, but there may be innovative new services, either provided directly by the Council, but more likely, the Council will be acting as the convener, bringing people together and using its relationships in other authorities, perhaps the health service, police, other Councillors, national government and international network, using all of those relationships and their convening power to allow citizens to organize their own new services, and to give them a sense of liberation. Also, to make the services that we provide not necessarily so one-size-fits-all but, also to personalize them in the same way, as we were talking about the National Health Service being personalised, I think you can offer personalized services in Local Government.
You might be able to start having transport schemes which recognize an individual’s transport needs, rather than just congestion charges for everybody, or bus passes for certain people or parking fines for particular behaviours. You can begin to be much more creative in the kind of offer that you can give to people, and the Council could respond to individual transport needs in a different way. We may no longer own cars in a fairly short time, particularly with climate change affecting the way that cars are produced, and instead, we may have a Council-brokered car leasing scheme where the Council uses its convening power and strength, to be able to offer personalized transport solutions to families and individuals.”