The Covid-19 crisis has driven Scotland’s 32 councils to increase the pace at which they are delivering services through digital technology, according to a new report from the Accounts Commission.
Councils have responded to Covid-19 by using technology to ensure many essential council services continue and to support thousands of council staff to work from home. But further progress may be restricted due to a lack of staff with the right skills and insufficient workforce planning.
To fully realise the potential of digital technology, greater collaboration, use of shared expertise, citizen engagement and strategic planning are all needed.
The report, Digital Progress in Local Government, says that councils are at different stages of digital transformation. The long-term focus should now be placed on how digital technology can provide better opportunities and services for people across Scotland, with citizens placed at the heart of this process.
Careful planning is needed to ensure the expansion of digital services does not widen existing inequalities.
The Commission is clear that the current work of the Scottish Government and COSLA to refresh the national digital strategy provides an opportunity to drive digital transformation across all Scotland’s 32 councils. Strong leadership and co-ordination at a national level is essential, to provide a consistent vision and clear direction.
In a previous report for the Scottish Government by Capgemini Invent, the standard of Scottish digital public services was found to be above the European average, but still lagged behind regional leaders the Nordic countries.
A key area in which Scotland lagged was a lack of a standardised online ID system. This would allow users to identify themselves online across various entities and have all government communication stored online.
Furthermore, a lack of transparency held back Scotland’s ratings, which could be improved by offering additional insight into the use of personal data by public sector bodies and more options for participation and communication.
As such, both reports make the case for increased cooperation and communication by different groups across Scotland to ensure greater accessibility and transparency.
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Andrew Cowie, member of the Accounts Commission said: “Now is the time for clear and decisive strategic planning with the refresh of Scotland’s national digital strategy. It is an opportunity that has to be seized to ensure there is a vision for digital transformation across all councils, with shared priorities, skills and knowledge.
“Councils have worked hard to increase the pace at which digital technology has been introduced due to Covid-19, enabling many vital services to continue. Now all councils must focus on putting all citizens at the heart of digital service design, empowering communities to thrive, not just survive.”
The report was prepared by Audit Scotland for the Accounts Commission, the public spending watchdog for local government.