November 16, 2020

UK local authorities lagging on digital record access: FOI

By Ellen Daniel

Local authorities in the UK are yet to fully embrace digital government services, according to research by OpenText.

This is according to data gathered by the software company through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent to 428 local authorities across the UK, with 263 of them responding, in July and August 2020.

It revealed that 31% of UK local authorities are unable to confirm how much of the information they have on local citizens is digitalised. Just 40% of local authorities have digitalised the majority of the information they store and manage for local citizens, while only 11% have fully digitalised their citizen records.

This follows the launch of the National Data Strategy in September, a scheme designed to create a “world-leading data economy” in the UK and ensure that people, businesses and organisations trust the data ecosystem, are able to access to data when they need it.

However, OpenText highlighted that there is a “significant disparity” between this ambitious plan and the current state of information sharing when it comes to local authorities.

OpenText revealed that 27% of UK citizens are still unable to access their own digital records online.

Not only does this make it more difficult for citizens, it also makes it harder for local authority employees to access to citizen information remotely, vital during the Covid-19 pandemic and shift to remote working.

Although 80% have been using a content services solution since 2019 or earlier to store and manage citizen information, which employees can access when working remotely, 11% of local authorities said they have no plans to implement this technology.

Tracey Lethbridge, head of UK public sector at OpenText, said:

“At a time when local government is working day and night to protect vulnerable citizens from Covid-19, it’s important that they continue to strive for easier and faster ways to share information, both internally with staff and externally with citizens and third-party organisations.

“With an increasing number of employees in the public sector moving to long-term home working, a unified content services platform which stretches across different departments is essential to provide a single point of access for the relevant information and documentation needed to keep vital services running – regardless of where it is and in what form. That’s also true for partners and citizens, as most digital content platforms can integrate with portals or quickly create their own access points to provide third parties with secure access to the information they need.

She said that during the country’s Covid-19 recovery, embracing digital platforms will be vital:

“Enabling these self-service capabilities will be integral as we look ahead to the UK’s recovery from Covid-19, improving service quality whilst reducing costs. Local government is increasingly being tasked to do more with less – and those that embrace the potential of digital content platforms will be best positioned to support staff, partners and citizens through the turbulent and uncertain times ahead.”

Read More: How coronavirus blurred the lines between public and private data.