Looking at a more proactive approach to digital communications

The Localism Bill is pushing us towards new, more personalised ways of service delivery. At the same time, the Spending Review requires councils to deliver savings of 28% by 2015.

Digital technology is a key instrument in both these policies – it can drive better services and lower costs. But whilst much attention is focusing on social networks as a way of engaging citizens with community politics, I believe there is still great potential for email newsletters and subscription forms of communication to redesign how citizens interact with local authorities (see earlier post here).

I am therefore setting out to write a research report that will consider what these better services look like and the amount of resource they can save a council.

The research part looks like this

– Conduct a survey of UK councils to establish current perception of email relative to other forms of communication. This will identify standard techniques, resources used, cost of delivery and common barriers to digital delivery.

– Conduct interviews with relevant officers in UK councils you are proactively usingemail newsletters and subscription forms of communication e.g. Norfolk CC to assess benefit to council in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and engagement.

– Audit potential cost savings

Which will then be written up in to a report that will

– Analysis of survey data and qualitative interviews to highlight best practice and audit cost savings.

– Feature case studies– one illustrating challenges / barriers facing local government (e.g. culture, old IT systems), one highlighting best practice and then others somewhere in tn between, decided upon after reviewing survey results.

– Develop practical recommendations for how council can improve their practice.

Want to get involved?

If you work for a council and would like to take part in the survey you can do so here – it should take about 10-15 mins. Or, if you are doing something in the authority that you are particularly proud of and would like to be considered as a case study for the report, then please feel free to give me call on 020 7554 2855, email on rob.dale@lgiu.org.uk or send em a link on Twitter through @robandale.

The government have announced a u-turn on rent rises today after campaigning by many local authorities, local government and housing organisations, supported by the LGiU. Margaret Beckett has today announced that the average guideline rent increase for 2009/10 will be halved from 6.2 per cent to 3.1 per cent for local authority tenants.  The Government will make funding available to support local authorities to make the changes, and revise their rents for 2009/10 accordingly.   The changes to the guideline rent increase means tenants should see a marked drop in their proposed average rent increase for the coming year from around £4 per week to approximately just under £2. This is a victory for common sense: well done in particular to Waltham Forest and Westminster who were amongst those councils leading the lobbying effort. Below is my 20th Feb blog post highlighting the issue and the campaign, calling for an 11th hour u-turn: Our too centralised system of government means that just when councils really need the flexibility to take action to help people in their commuities, they are hamstrung by government guidelines, laws and financial arrangements.   The current controversy over rent rises illustrates the problem. The Government's rent guidelines will lead to rent rises of around £6 a week for most council tenants, way above inflation.   Many councils are delaying setting the increases and notifying tenants in the hope of a change of heart by Ministers.    One of the problems is that the rent guidelines set by government are based on last September's Retail price Index, which was 5%, based on which, the government announced a cap of 6%.   The RPI is now 3.1%.   So why can't councils just decide to set a lower increase? Well the answer is that they can, and some will, but they will have to fund this by moving money around within the Housing Revenue Account.   The effect of this is to eat into funds which are already allocated, leading to cutbacks in tenant and neighbourhood services and repairs and improvement of existing homes.   The alternative is for the government to look again at the rules and guidelines, allow councils more flexibility about how they manage their finances, and provide a small amount of financial assistance - the Treasury do after all take £194m from the rents. Ministers have promised to look again, it is not too late to change the guidelines and even at this 11th hour we hope they will listen.