Georgina Maratheftis, techUK’s Head of Local Public Services, will join the committee to discuss techUK’s Council of the Future guide. The guide includes practical examples of how digital can improve outcomes for residents and a series of questions for officers and other elected members to engender change and build capacity across the local area.
The Chair welcomed Georgina Maratheftis, Head of Local Public Services at TechUK, to the meeting. She gave a presentation to the committee on TechUK’s Council of the Future guide.
Georgina Maratheftis noted that the pandemic had been a multiplier for technology adoption and innovation. The sector had shifted very quickly to mass remote working and had seen improvements in collaboration through the use of platforms like Teams, Zoom, and Skype. Councils had also used digital infrastructure to coordinate volunteers to support vulnerable residents who were shielding.
Georgina also spoke about the Local Digital Declaration, a joint endeavour initiated by the UK Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the Government Digital Service (GDS), and a collection of local authorities and sector bodies from across the UK. The declaration expressed an ambition for local public services in the internet age to:
She then highlighted some ways in which Councils could help move this forward:
· Be a digital champion and empower digital leadership at the executive level
· Use data to make informed decisions
· Sign up to the local digital declaration
· Spearhead a culture of innovation
The Chair asked how GDRP had affected data sharing. Georgina Maratheftis said any data sharing would have to take place within data protection rules and officers should work with their data protection officer. She added that data could be anonymised to ensure that nothing sensitive was shared. Veronica Barella (Chief Digital Officer) added that the Council had data sharing agreements in place around how data was handled and stored.
The Chair asked what a ‘smart city’ was, and if there was a danger of it being used as a Trojan horse for privatisation. Georgina Maratheftis said she preferred the term ‘smart place’ and that the idea was about considering what technology could do to help enable the vision for a place. For example, in Camden there were booths where visitors can get free Wi-Fi and make calls.
Councillor Zarar Qayyum asked about the implications of smart cities and increased automation on employment and job security. He also asked whether a smart city would provide services on top of the traditional local authority provided services.
Georgina Maratheftis said a smart city should start with the local authority and their vision for a digital council across the place. In terms of the impact of technology on jobs – she said it was important to upskill the organisation and better equip workers and young people to have the digital skills needed for the jobs of the future.
Martin Calleja (AD Efficiency and Zero-Based Budgeting) noted the complexity of the local government technology market and asked how the Council could encourage high quality procurement and investment. Georgina Maratheftis said TechUK worked with the sector and ran events to better educate them and ensure they could have more informed, meaningful conversations with local authorities. She said it was important for technology providers to see local authorities as partners, not just customers.
Councillor Guy Vincent felt that few of the technology ideas referenced in the agenda papers seemed to improve the day-to-day activities of the Council like housing repairs or tackling anti-social behaviour. Councillor Christabel Cooper disagreed and said she could see huge benefits in the ‘single view of a resident’. A common frustration for residents contacting the Council was that they were pushed from department to department with little or no data sharing or tracking so they had to repeat their issue multiple times to different people. It would also be more efficient for residents to be able to interact with the Council online rather than having to wait on hold to a call centre for example.
Councillor Adam Connell (Cabinet Member for Public Service Reform) said a priority for the Council was to be inclusive and co-produce services with disabled people. He asked if there were any examples of co-production with users on digital services. Georgina Maratheftis said TechUK was putting together a database of local government innovation to share examples of good practice. She added that Croydon were currently working on a digital inclusion project with Leeds – more information can be found on the Croydon Digital blog: croydon.digital/2020/09/16/leeds-and-croydon-are-creating-a-digital-inclusion-toolkit/
Veronica Barella agreed that technology should be seen as the enabler for outcomes. The Council’s new resident access and improvement programme was designing services from a resident point of view – looking at the outcomes first then looking for appropriate technology solutions.
The Chair asked if, given the history of public sector procurement failures, there was a risk ofpublic sector institutions being scared to be first to try new things, and if that was stifling innovation. Georgina Maratheftis said it was an issue that had been raised by TechUK’s members, but the relationship between councils and suppliers was evolving. TechUK was encouraging councils to have honest conversations with suppliers about needs and expectations at the start of the process, undertake thorough market engagement and, where appropriate, start small and scale up.
The Chair thanked Georgina Maratheftis from TechUK for attending the committee. He then summarised the discussion, noting that new technology should never be a goal in and of itself, but that councils should focus on the outcomes and resident services they wanted to achieve, and then work back to find the most effective way to deliver them.