Public ‘wants more’ from council digital services

Councils’ perception of their success in delivering digital services is wildly at odds with those of the public, according to a new survey.

Figures released as part of consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers’ annual review of the local authority sector found that 75% of council leaders and 61% of chief executives believe their council is confidently embracing the opportunities new technology offers to deliver better local public services.

However, when we asked the public the same question, only 29% agreed with the statement.

The report said: “Clearly, local authorities still have some way to go when it comes to meeting the digital expectations of the public.

“The public is clearly keen for more digital access to their council and chief executives and  leaders need to engage with the public  on their own terms as they shape their  future digital approach.”

The PWC survey, which spoke to more than 2,000 members of the public, found significant regional variations in the degree to which citizens use digital platforms to interact with councils.

Almost half of Londoners (48%) and people in Wales (47%) had interacted with the council digitally in the past month, compared with just 29% in the East Midlands.

The report concluded that the disparity “demonstrates that there is much that councils can learn from leading adopters of digital when it comes  to getting the full benefits of moving to digital transactions”.

It highlighted a lack of consistency among services, with some areas embracing sophisticated digital approaches while  others are left behind.

A fifth of public respondents said they used their council’s website to access information and one in ten paid  for a public service digitally within the past month.

When asked if they wanted more services to be available digitally, almost half agreed that they did.

PWC found that in addition to a clear majority of 18-34 year olds expecting better digital local authority services, more than 40% of over 55 per cents also supported the idea.

Only a third of the public said they wanted to interact with their council in person (36%) or by telephone (31%).

“Clearly there is still an important role for  these contact channels, but the survey also points to unexploited potential in  fully embracing digital opportunities for  interacting with the public,” according to the report author.

Data security was also raised as a big concern, with only one in three saying they trusted their council to manage their personal data and information.

The report said: “This will be a challenge for councils as they move away from digital transaction services and look for more  innovative ways of using digital technology to change the nature of the relationship  between the council and citizens.”

Colin Marrs

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