Council chiefs ‘fear demand’ created by digital

Corporate managers in some councils are reluctant to invest in channel shift because of fears it will increase demand for services, according to Socitm president Nick Roberts.

Making the opening address at the 2014 Socitm annual conference, Roberts said that digital technology was essential to helping councils cope with cuts in funding.

But he added that there was a fear among some council leaders that improving the user experience could put extra pressure on hard-pressed departments.

He said: “If we do digital right, we make the services easier to use and cheaper and make them more efficient.

“The rub that comes from that is it makes the services easier to access and increases demand.

For example, if you make pothole reporting very simple then you get a lot of reported potholes and an expectation you are going to repair them – the highways budget goes through the roof.

“That creates a kickback against digital.”

He called for senior digital officers to have a “sensible conversation” with colleagues to persuade them that the risk of extra demand is not a reason for retaining digital services that are difficult to use. .

Roberts said that a new Socitm technology board would attempt to improve dialogue between the demand and supply side in public digital services.

The aim would be to identify good practice as well as identifying where “technical inhibitors” exist, he said.

Roberts said, separately, that Rob Miller, head of shared ICT services at Royal Borough of Kingston and London Borough of Sutton would chair a Socitm group looking at the issue of sharing data with organisations which are not on the Public Services Network.

Colin Marrs

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