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Local authorities given £800,000 for digital tools development

Image credit: REUTERS/Lee Smith

The government is granting 11 local authorities funds to support new digital tools to help cope with coronavirus-related complications.

Cash from the Local Digital Fund will be granted to 11 council-led projects to serve residents through the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement comes two years since the Local Digital Declaration, in which over 220 councils and public sector organisations committed to driving efficiency and improvements in their services through use of digital technologies.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses and public authorities to shift rapidly to remote working and providing services with minimal in-person contact. According to a government statement, local councils have found creative new ways of serving residents through the pandemic.

The funding (up to £120,000 per project) is intended to help councils continue to modernise their services.

For instance, Newcastle City Council will be awarded £67,500 to develop a tool which predicts whether certain parts of a city are overcrowded and at increased risk of viral transmission; Greater Manchester Combined Authority will receive £80,000 to develop a predictive modelling system to understand and prepare for side effects of the pandemic on vulnerable children; and Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole Council will receive £34,000 to improve their app for tackling overcrowding on beaches by informing visitors which sections are busy. A group of more than half a dozen local authorities will receive £120,000 to create tools to predict which vulnerable people need support.

Much of the funding will go towards improving quite basic digital services, such as online systems for residents to access information about planning projects and town centre changes, or to watch public meetings online.

“Councils have made huge efforts to support their residents at this testing time – by housing rough sleepers quickly, supporting vulnerable people and ensuring services such as bin collections continue,” said Simon Clarke, the minister for local government. “They have had to adapt their services from in-person to online, using technology to do so and I am determined we capitalise on this and use everything we have learned to improve efficiency and make services better for residents and communities.”

“That’s why we’re giving them £800,000 to build on the rapid digital innovation of recent months so that local communities continue to feel the benefits of more efficient public services.”

The government provided £3.2bn in emergency grant funding to councils in March and April, in order to help meet with the costs associated with supporting the elderly and homeless while local revenue fell (e.g. from town hall hire). However, local councils have been calling for further support from the government, including better access to Covid-19 testing data such that they can prepare for possible local lockdowns.

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