Local government bodies call for ‘centralised mechanism’ to support and fund AI

In a submission to parliament’s Public Accounts Committee – shortly before its dissolution – LGA, Socitm and others call for creation of new programmes and bodies to enable councils’ use of tech

A range of bodies representing local authorities have collectively urged government to create a “centralised mechanism” to provide funding and support for councils’ use of artificial intelligence technologies.

In written evidence submitted to parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, a group of five local government organisations – including the Local Government Association, Socitm, Solace, the London Office for Technology and Innovation, and iNetwork – have made four “key recommendations” for the use of AI by public bodies.

Among these is a call for greater Whitehall action in “supporting local government innovation”. This would involve central government providing backing for “investment to innovate – both to explore the use of AI, and in readiness, particularly addressing legacy debt and strengthening data foundations” throughout local authorities. The evidence submissions suggests that this would entail ministers creating new initiatives or government entities.

“Access to technologist support is key in the context of capacity and capability gaps,” it adds . “This financial support would be best delivered through a centralised mechanism, such as a centre for local government digital or lab. Measures must be taken to ensure that support addresses the digital divide within the sector.”

Other recommendations made by the five organisations include ensuring that local government is always “represented on public sector strategic boards” convened by Whitehall, and that councils “have equivalent access to training as civil servants”.

The submission also recommends that government creates a centrally administered “assurance ecosystem” for public procurement of AI tools, in which it is “mandatory for suppliers [to go through] external verification”.

Related content

“An enhanced role for public buying organisations – such as Crown Commercial Service and other local government-led PBOs – should be considered, with consultation with local government information and cybersecurity specialists, to ensure this assurance is done centrally – saving resources and capacity for councils as buyers and vendors,” the written evidence adds. “To address concerns regarding market dominance by a few suppliers, more must be done to foster competition, particularly for SMEs, and local government is seen as a vital vehicle for making this happen.”

The final of the four recommendations to support the use of AI in public services is that government should create a new digital inclusion strategy, backed by additional “central funding… to remove barriers for digitally excluded residents”.

This echoes calls made in recent months by parliamentarians and charities. The government’s last dedicated plan to progress digital inclusion was published more than a decade ago.

The Public Accounts Committee opened its inquiry into the use of AI in government in March and, since then, has taken written evidence from a range of sources. A large tranche of submissions related to all the committee’s ongoing inquiries was published on Tuesday – ahead of parliament being dissolved in advance of the election.

Now that this dissolution has taken place, there are no longer any serving MPs or committees. PAC is always chaired by a member of the opposition so, if Labour wins a majority on 4 July, the current chair Meg Hillier will leave her post after nine years in the role.

Sam Trendall

Learn More →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Subscribe to our newsletter