A new report has claimed that unless local government in the UK begins to better understand and harness the power of data, it risks making itself irrelevant.
The document, Demystifying Data: The Data Revolution and What It Means For Local Government, was published by the New Local Government Network (NGLN), an organisation that works to improve public services.
The organisation claims that data is at the heart of the better running of all modern public services, but despite this, local authorities are failing to take full advantage of their data assets and the information it could provide if it were used properly.
The report outlines the challenges councils in the country are facing, how they can properly utilise data and explains the “vast scale” of the opportunities that properly harnessing this information could provide.
NGLN claims that local government could make huge savings by targeting their services much more effectively and utilising data could also help bring inward investment.
It adds that data is not just a financial asset – it can be the key that unlocks a local authority’s ability to full integrate and transform the services they offer local people to truly develop the full potential of their places.
“It is only through the proper use, understanding and interpretation of data that councils can achieve any of their aims to transform their services to make them more personal and more effective,” claimed Maria Beresford, author of Demystifying Data.
“Data is the oil that will smooth the wheels of integration, personalisation and economic development. If councils don’t realise this asset, they will miss huge opportunities for investment and transformation – ultimately failing their people and places,” she added.
The report makes a number of recommendations for local government going forward, including the release of more non-personal public sector data in open data formats via accessible platforms so businesses, social enterprises, volunteer organisations and local groups can access it.
It also claims that council directors should collaborate with frontline staff, managers and other public sector partners to scrutinise the current approach to data and create local data strategies.
Furthermore, NGLN believes that local councils should team up with each other to build schemes and programmes aimed at fostering digital and open data skills, particularly amongst existing businesses and SMEs.
The document recommends a number of partnerships, embryonic data and technology business clusters, a Local Government Digital Programme, a Public Data Analytics Hub, a Local Government Open Data Index and Open Data 30, as well as an overhaul of data sharing legislation.
“With reducing budgets and rapidly shifting expectations from residents, local government runs the risk of becoming irrelevant in this digital age,” claimed Kevin Merritt, CEO of open data cloud solutions provider Socrata, which supported the Demystifying Data report.
“Transparency, accountability and innovation are no longer a choice, being open and using data to drive decisions is a necessity if you are to remain relevant to the citizens you serve.
“You can no longer act in isolation. The data you hold, locked in spreadsheets and databases, is the key to engaging others in tackling the issues that matter,” he added.