In the minds of senior local authority leaders, the pandemic crystallised the need for better digital service delivery.  

One council leader told me she thought her organisation’s biggest strategic failure in hindsight was not putting in place a sustainable cloud strategy prior to February 2020. 

Of course, during a crisis being able to rely on a joined up, secure, GDPR compliant solution is helpful and comforting. Paas, IaaS and SaaS solutions can be cost effective in the long run for councils. Already stretched colleagues are freed up for other things. The lack of local government DDaT skills is less of an issue.  

Central government is trying to push on with transforming government services with its 2022-2025 roadmap. The Crown Commercial Service is encouraging organisations to embrace CDDO’s Technology Code of Practice. Planned Cabinet Office legislation on central government data sharing will make single sign-on and identity checking for all public services, especially the big ones, much easier.

But how can all this help local authorities when it comes to the ‘long tail’? What does the ‘long tail’ even mean in practice? It’s those low volume but often highly important services provided by the public sector. Understandably, when it comes to digital platforms the approach is utilitarian: the greatest benefit to the greatest many. The ‘long tail’ services are the first to be overlooked in favour of reforming services that engage higher numbers. 

Take the Seed Potato Classification Scheme. In terms of numbers it is low volume for the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) but it is still very important work. 

Perhaps because it is low volume there has not been investment in digitisation. Applicants to the scheme still complete a PDF form, submitted to the local APHA office. Time consuming. Probably more bureaucratic than APHA would like. 

Local authorities face the same challenges. Constituents with very specific service needs who use very specific services can be overlooked. What is more, most often the most vulnerable are the very people who do not have digital skills to engage. Their stories are very often the first to hit the media. 

When it comes to digital strategies working out what you are doing is important. But working out what you are not doing is equally, if not more, crucial. What are you deliberately fending off as your organisation embraces digital reforms? What ‘long tail’ services should you not be investing in at the moment?

When budgets are stretched local authority leaders might not be focusing on low volume services and that’s understandable. However, knowing what your ‘long tail’ includes is critical. You must register the risks of not providing digital solutions in these areas.

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