The Spending Review announced £1.8bn 'investment in digital transformation' for government services.
In addition it added: 'A modern and reformed state is built on the understanding that higher spending does not automatically mean better services, and that by harnessing today’s technological advances, government can modernise public services, saving money and improving citizens’ interaction with the state…The Spending Review sets out the next steps in transforming public services while offering a better deal for taxpayers. This will be delivered through digitising services and stronger collaboration between different parts of the public sector.'
With local government facing the greatest budget reduction across the public sector the need to use digital technology to drive through efficiencies is more vital than ever, and over the five years councils have stepped up and introduced the sort of flexible thinking, aided by technology, that is rare in the public sector.
So what did austerity ever do for us? Well, innovative procurement for one. Borne out of necessity, yes, but the benefits are undeniable.
Innovative procurement has brought the public sector the opportunity to break down barriers, engage in collaboration and transform how public services are delivered. In addition it has enabled the sector to lower costs, and engage citizens and partner organisations. Innovation and technology is the link between financial strain and ever increasing demand.
For the first time, the technology was in place before austerity measures were introduced, allowing innovators to flex and adapt the technology to ease their shrinking budget while improving services.
In turn, that pliable thinking has led to a culture change. There’s a greater willingness within the public sector to collaborate from top to bottom. Councils are more confident now in outsourcing, joining up services and looking at the bigger picture through integration.
Manchester is an excellent example of austerity driving innovation, by taking control of its own budget for NHS and social care. Greater Manchester has a long history of co-operative working. In 1996 the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher abolished the metropolitan counties. The borough of Greater Manchester then had ten local authorities which worked together. In 2008 the borough expanded its activities into non-traditional local government areas, including a health commission, which is now the Greater Manchester Health and Wellbeing board.
After the Manchester independent economic review, which identified health as an area that was holding the borough back in terms of economic advancement though employment, the borough decided to focus on economic growth through public service reform. The advantage in the borough’s co-operative history is that many strategic partnerships with tech providers and alliances already exist and can be easily pulled together.
Austerity has given us an opportunity to deliver real transformation that delivers lasting benefit in terms of cost and change. Maybe we need to rethink the old adage – it’s not necessity that’s the mother of invention – it’s austerity.
Bob Quin is Senior Marketing Manager at BT Global Services.