By David Bicknell
IT teams in cash-strapped councils are being given a helping hand to drive new IT projects where teams believe technology innovation could drive positive change in local communities.
It follows the launch of a Future Fund created by mobile telecomms company O2 to help forward-thinking councils get to grips with new methods of engaging their staff, citizens and communities.
Successful local authorities applying for the scheme will be awarded access to O2 consultancy time, services and technology to help them turn their project ideas into reality.
The Future Fund open for applications on 25th April with three grant funding packages available to the value of £125,000, £75,000 and £50,000.
60 councils attended the launch event with the scheme focused on authorities developing ideas and services against three broad themes: reducing cost and improving efficiencies; finding new ways of engaging with citizens; and empowering the community to do more for itself.
Each of the topics points to more effective service delivery, by empowering staff or by expanding the concept of ‘self-service’.
To support the Fund’s launch, O2 plans to showcase 17 different parts of its business, each with their own unique slant on the digital age, from established technologies such as wi-fi to ‘people’ skills, social media expertise, mobile advertising and location-based services, as well as business engagement and apps development. Councils will be able to pick which selection of services to use to build their idea and weave into their bid.
O2 says it has created the Future Fund through its Local Government Futures Forum, which aims to understand what the role of IT should be in modernising councils in challenging times.
It argues that as technology advances at a rapid pace, with people creating and consuming data in more diverse and immediate ways, councils face a challenge to use these channels to demonstrate communications nous and find new ways to engage with their communities.
A recent consultation exercise found that budget cuts across the public sector have resulted in an expected automatic squeeze on resources, with mounting pressure across all departments to operate more efficiently and do more with less.
With ongoing pressure to reduce spending, council decision-makers are opting for solutions that make an immediate impact – cutting services, and in turn cost – rather than looking at ways of adapting them, with IT departments facing an uphill struggle to retain and control their destinies, often competing for de-centralised budgets across multiple teams with no place or input at a board level.
Ben Dowd, Director of Business at O2 says: “O2 believes that the right application of technology has the potential to drive real change. Our findings through our work with local government IT departments support this belief. What is different is that the Future Fund will give a glimpse of what is possible with a bit of imagination and we will support the winning bids by providing investment in their IT infrastructure coupled with resource and expertise.
“So it is up to the councils to determine how it can be applied to their own council, citizens or community, ultimately giving local government the ability to shape their own destiny in a project they are passionate about.”
Applications for the Fund will be judged by a panel of experts from O2 and independent parties. Councils will then have eight weeks to develop and deliver their ideas, before selection takes place later this year.