Vicky is MD at Boilerhouse and programme director for the Better Connected Programme and for the Connected Care Programme

Adass Care Apps Showcase

Will Brexit and yet more austerity stop us turning the transformation vision into reality

The need for transformation has never been more urgent. But it can no longer just be about doing things differently (including digitally). The only possibility is to do different things.

In May, we ran an event under the Better Connected programme banner with the collaboration of the Local CIO Council. Our title and our theme was The re-invention of local public servicesWe brought together public service leaders at all levels and invited them to re-imagine the possibilities.

The talk was all about the possibilities of using data to properly understand local needs and resources, of releasing community assets and co-creating services with communities. Speakers and delegates discussed driving digital inclusion and releasing hidden potential by enabling and embedding community and individual self-management. And how using devolved powers to re-focus on place, not providers, would support collaboration between health, housing and other local public and voluntary services.

Scroll on a few months to Soctim 2016 (Milton Keynes, 17/18 October 2016) and the prospect is 400 delegates set to carry these discussions forward – specifically, how local public services can use technology to enable fundamental transform of complex interactions with citizens (eg around benefits, housing and social care).

This time however, the discussion will take place against an altogether different background. The landcape that has come into focus as the dust of June 23 settles was probably unanticipated by the vast majority of the crowd at Better Connected Live.

Whatever the picture in other arenas of the economy and society it seems clear that Brexit will pile still more difficulty onto local public services already stretched to breaking point. While the full impacts are not yet known, there is gloom about loss of EU funding in less well-off areas, worry about migrant workers, from key sectors like social care, returning home. And more immediately, massive anxiety about economic reversal and the knock on effect on local authority finances.

Noises from the Government about major issues affecting local authorities – devolution, public spending, grammar schools even – are short on detail and continue to generate significant uncertainty. 

So what to do? Hang fire in the hope the politicians will work it out, soon?

The opposite should be the case. Transformation has never been more needed. It can no longer be about doing things differently. The only possibility is to do different things.

And for all the fine words, we haven’t been. Ask yourself, how many times have you have seen anything in our local public services which warrant the comment: ‘Now that’s transformational’?

How much of what we do in public services has really gone on much as before? Yes, with fewer people probably, and some services removed or cut back. But how many of us have really been re-thinking whether a service could be delivered differently, or the outcome be delivered by doing something totally different? Really taking advantage of digital technology, social media, and the new ways we can communicate and interact with each other?

Here are some stories that have triggered that ‘This really is different' feeling. You’ll note that ‘digital’ is far less important in any of these stories than the will to do better with the resources available:

Norfolk County Council’s library and public health services are collaborating to deliver the local health strategy and extend public health awareness. Each library is given health data on its area, and the professionals then collaborate on activities that best suit local library customers. An area with high levels of adult obesity is focused on healthy eating, nutrition advice, and family fun-days. Another, which has above average winter deaths, is working on a campaign to encourage older customers to get a flu vaccination, order prescriptions early, and heat their homes adequately.

Sandwell West Birmingham NHS Trust created an integrated health and social care system, open 12 hours a day and seven days a week, that sees urgent cases within three hours and has slashed the waiting time for routine appointments from 40 to 11 days. This vastly improved service, made possible by changing professional working patterns and practices, has been delivered while making considerable savings.

Newham Council has used data to solve a longstanding problem with unlicensed (and quite possibly unsafe) "beds in sheds".Newham’s landlords must now register - online only - with the council, and matching the data generated with other council-owned and publicly available has allowed the council to work out which properties were likely to be in multiple occupancy use. As well as bringing in millions of pounds in licence fees, the scheme has helped Newham increase council tax revenues by 1%, as many rogue landlords also owed council taxes.

Kirklees Council has tackled dramatic cuts to their advice service by streamlining the benefits process and channel shifting residents to BetterOff, a new digital service that also helps with job search. The mobile first service enables 70% of claimants in to apply for benefits online. Real life advice from benefit advisors is embedded in forms, ensuring they are filled in correctly the first time. Web chat is also integrated for further support. In its first six months, local residents gained over £2.5million in benefits while specialist advice requests dropped by around half.


Socitm 2016

The ADASS Care Apps Showcase 2017

Better Connected Live 2017

The Information Daily

Council News Monitor

Public Service Digital

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