The report builds on insights from senior officers and councillors at a CCN roundtable in May, aimed at understanding how the network’s member councils are revising their digital strategies in the context of the post-pandemic era.
This included the shift in workforce recruitment and work patterns; through the growing impact of cloud-based computing; to the increasing reliance of communities on digital access as a ‘utility’ with those unable to access it facing some form of exclusion.
In some cases, counties have accelerated their progress on the use of digital technology – the enforced need for many staff to work remotely during the pandemic means that councils like other employers, have already upgraded facilities for remote working in ways which would not have been anticipated for years if not decades before 2020.
Similarly the health risks of exchanging money have led more people towards a presumption towards cashless payment systems in services they engage with. More widely councils are understanding how a greater proportion of their communities are now expecting to be able to interact with them virtually in ways they have come to expect from the businesses they accessed online.
At the same time the need to direct all available resources to responding to the pandemic also meant some aspects of council digital strategies – larger scale projects such as enabling libraries to offer 24 hour online access for instance – may have had to be paused or even abandoned.
New issues have started to emerge, such as the growing ‘digital divide’ between those citizens who are digitally literate and those who aren’t and how, as services are increasingly moved online, local authorities can help to prevent inequalities and exclusion on this basis. As the bandwidth to cope with wider work returns, many councils will already be looking to reassess these decisions and think about how such projects can get underway again.
HSO, which is an official partner of Microsoft, has produced this report which considers the impact this is having on council strategies in areas such as digitising services, or providing flexibility for staff. The report provides learning and recommendations for local authorities around how to approach digital transformation and what factors are now current in this area.