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Navigating Fiscal Challenges: A Digital Imperative for Local Authorities


The Chief Executive’s endorsement, support, and active participation in embracing digital transformation as a fundamental strategy can drive cultural change and ensure that it permeates throughout the council influencing decision-making, processes, and resource allocation.
The Chief Executive’s endorsement, support, and active participation in embracing digital transformation as a fundamental strategy can drive cultural change and ensure that it permeates throughout the council influencing decision-making, processes, and resource allocation.

Recently, I have engaged in extensive discussions with numerous local authority Chief Executives and senior leaders, and I have gained invaluable insights into the pressing challenges they face. The current landscape for local authorities in the UK is fraught with unprecedented financial shortfalls, exacerbating pressures on vital services. This situation has prompted a critical need for innovation, particularly in the realm of digital. This article explores the challenges facing local authorities and the pivotal role digital plays in addressing these issues. The article also highlights the responsibility upon the Chief Executive to endorse, support, and actively participate in digital transformation.


"Could digital offer a lifeline delivering essential cost savings, relief while sustaining services"?

Local authorities in the UK are grappling with an unprecedented budget shortfall, magnifying the strain on essential services. According to UNISON research (one of the largest trade unions in the UK) local authorities have a hole in their finances exceeding GBP 3.5bn collectively for the coming financial year (2024-25). The research also shows 114 councils are at least GBP 10m short of their planned spending requirements. BBC analysis shows that the average council faces a predicted deficit of GBP 33m by 2025-26 which is a 60% rise from GBP 20m two years ago.


The ramifications of this escalating deficit are significant. Libraries and leisure centres are shutting, and children's centres are facing closure. In addition, it is extremely likely councils will have to make cuts in jobs and essential services to communities such as in social care waste collection and customer service, for example.


If left unaddressed the situation could worsen resulting in a rather bleak outlook. What options exist for local authority leaders to navigate this crisis and could digital offer a lifeline to realise cost savings while sustaining services?


“Digital transformation is no longer the preserve of ICT teams – It plays a pivotal role in orchestrating comprehensive whole council digital transformation”

In our experience embracing digital transformation and digitally enabled solutions has the potential to address some of the challenges being faced by councils. Through discussions with dozens of local authority Chief Executives and senior leaders it is evident that local authorities have become trapped in a cycle of maintaining the status quo where digital is seen as the preserve of the ICT department.


We believe that this way of thinking is outdated, no longer holds truth and that it must change if local authorities are to survive.


Digital transformation isn't solely about adopting new technology and it is certainly no longer the preserve of ICT teams. Digital technology now plays a pivotal role in orchestrating comprehensive whole council digital transformation, yielding enhanced financial outcomes at the corporate level, optimising service provision, and fostering notable social and economic impact for improved places.


“Simply treating digital as a technology upgrade is no longer sufficient – a strategic shift in mindset led by the Chief Executive is imperative”

Simply viewing digital transformation as a technological upgrade is no longer sufficient and a strategic shift in mindset is imperative to break free from this cycle. Only by integrating digital transformation into the very core of each council organisation from the Chief Executive down will it be possible to deliver a substantial, systemic shift that impacts how services are delivered and improves the overall functioning of the council.


The Chief Executive’s endorsement, support, and active participation in embracing digital transformation as a fundamental strategy can drive cultural change and ensure that it permeates throughout the council influencing decision-making, processes, and resource allocation. This endorsement is essential because whole council digital transformation touches across all essential cornerstones of council activities: at the corporate level, across service delivery and across the local economy and place.


  • Firstly, at a corporate level, digital strategies can help councils to increase revenues, reduce costs, and increase worker productivity, easing the burden on the public sector workforce enabling them to achieve more outcomes with less resources. This is pivotal for bolstering financial stability.


  • Secondly, digital interventions facilitate the delivery of superior services to residents and businesses enhancing satisfaction and fostering a better living and working environment, whether it is improving customer services, care, waste management, or detecting fuel poverty, for example.


  • Finally, digital initiatives can advance broader environmental and economic regeneration goals, driving inward investment supporting net-zero targets and fostering social impact, all crucial for the transformation of cities and regions into smarter, connected places.


“Local government digital transformation delivers cost-effective realities for local authorities”

Many people reading this may hold the view that while the concept of digital transformation sounds promising, the reality is that its implementation requires a significant investment, posing a financial challenge for councils already grappling with limited resources and constrained budgets.


The reality is far from this untruth. We have demonstrated to our local authority clients that digital transformation does not always requires significant capital investment. A meticulously crafted business case presenting the strategic case for digital transformation can demonstrate that a small investment can deliver significant costs savings, enhancement in service delivery and drive social and economic impact.


In these challenging times, the integration of digital strategies is not merely a necessity; it's an opportunity for councils to navigate fiscal challenges while fortifying services, fostering innovation, and steering towards a smarter, more sustainable future. Ultimately, these advancements not only improve the quality of life for residents but also attract businesses, investment, and talent, positively impacting the local economy.


About Intelligens Consulting

Intelligens Consulting is a multiple award-winning telecoms, smart city and digital transformation management consulting firm to investors, operators and public bodies with expertise in policy, networks, strategy, economics, procurement, and financing. We have a proven track record of supporting local authorities in their digital transformation journey. Pioneering innovative digital solutions, Intelligens Consulting has aided local authorities to improve financial stability, enhancing service delivery, and advancing economic investment and sustainability goals. With a comprehensive approach and a deep understanding of the digital landscape, Intelligens Consulting stands ready to assist councils in harnessing the power of digital transformation to overcome fiscal challenges, elevate service quality, and contribute to broader societal and environmental objectives. Please contact us on info@IntelligensConsulting.com should you wish to discuss anything discussed in this article.


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20231201 - Local Government Digital Transformation to Navigate Fiscal Challenges
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