During the COVID-19 pandemic, councils have had to react quickly and efficiently to launch new services, move staff members to new departments to support increased demand and work remotely. But as the pandemic began to plateau, we observed a reset beginning to happen in local government, as councils finally had a chance to step back and assess the current situation, and how their new operations were fairing up.
The ‘reset’ phase is all around the reset, recall, reform and recovery process within local authorities and the wider public sector.
Socitm, the Society for Innovation Technology and Modernisation, is a network made up of those who are responsible for shaping and delivering public services. Dave Sanderson, Regional Director at Socitm, talks to us about his perspective on the reset phase and what the ‘new normal’ could look like in local government. Here are some of the key talking points:
Shifting priorities and changing behaviours
Community collaboration has been key during the COVID-19 pandemic. Citizens across the UK had expectations from their Local Authority with them providing the latest information and advice from the UK Government. This meant Councils had to provide digital services quickly, whilst adapting to a new working environment. Since then, more and more services have been available online that weren’t before and the big question is - how do they keep the same quality of interaction and cooperation with online services?
There has also been a change in behaviours of citizens and this has been spun from the concern for health and wellbeing. The biggest change has been a change in attitude towards the environment. With less daily commutes happening, there has been a big reduction in pollution levels, so there is better air quality. Dave Sanderson predicts that this will help evolve citizens’ priorities and community spirit, bringing together more community collaboration, and bring more respect and value to the environment and our green spaces.
Digitising more services, removal and keeping those that work
There is the ongoing question at the moment around which services do we keep, which to make digital and which should we remove completely? Socitm is gathering data and conducting research to support Local Government in answering this question., Dave Sanderson suggests that one of the biggest positives for Local Authorities during the pandemic is the ability to reassess their roadmaps and spend more time implementing or perfecting services that are needed, rather than tirelessly creating or changing services that are no longer required.
We’ve broken this BIG question into the three key areas:
- Which services should we keep?
Voluntary and vulnerable services have proved vital during the COVID-19 pandemic, and collaboration between local authorities and community groups has been key. This collaboration was seen when systems to protect the most vulnerable in communities needed to be developed, with citizen’s and community groups volunteering to check-in, deliver food parcels to name a few.
- Which services should we digitise?
Dave talked about the need for virtual support for children as it’s proven to be very successful and that this could just be the beginning of moving online:“I think that there's a lot of areas where local authorities and the wider sector when this reset, reform and recover pace starts to evolve, there's going to be a lot more than we are then going to be keeping online.” - Dave Sanderson, Regional Director at Socitm
- Which services should we get rid of?
An article from The Guardian focused on a report estimating that Local Authorities could be facing a £10 billion black hole, with revenue streams such as parking charges drying up in the pandemic. Despite this, Dave suggests that there is no longer a need for cash payments, leading to less need for office receptions, paper-based invoices moving to digital and telephone payments being identified as a successful approach, meaning savings that could have been thought of as lost revenue previously being sourced in other forms and in-person payments being scrapped completely.
“It's now looking at what we can then put online to keep looking at these solutions and enable the networking as we move forward.” - Dave Sanderson, Regional Director at Socitm
The importance of accessibility during the lockdown
The accessibility requirements for public sector bodies deadline is 23rd September 2020, and the pandemic has not changed this. Accessibility is still as important as before, but there is now more of a need for Local Government websites to be accessible, as many vital services can only be accessed online. Citizens need to be reassured they will be able to access their local authority should they need too.
We have seen services created with speed to react to the current situation, with accessibility still at the forefront of their content, which is a great achievement. Accessibility has always been important, but now it has a deadline attached to it. Whether you’re a smaller or larger council, it’s really important to offer an accessible site to your citizens. Socitm is currently supporting public sector organisations in partnership with Silktide and Jadu. They have created a catalogue of resources, including; webinars, blogs and accessibility statement templates.
We have an eBook, Councils: Ready for Reset - Three Key Considerations for What Comes Next, which you can check out here: jadu.net/channel-shift