Citizens prefer digital services – but local authorities are struggling to deliver.

Capita research reveals that citizens would prefer to use council services online, but the experience is disappointing. Meanwhile councils face funding shortages and increasing demand for services. In this environment, digital transformation can only be achieved by putting ordinary people at the heart of service design.

Public service funding may be cut by up to £1.3 billion in 2019-20, and Brexit is adding to uncertainty, making it more difficult for local authorities to plan and innovate. So understanding the problems citizens face, and designing with them in mind, is vital to achieving digital transformation efficiently and effectively.

Capita talked to executives in 14 local authorities, as well as citizens in Newcastle, Sunderland, Greenwich, Glasgow and Hull. We collated our research in a White Paper titled: How to design council services citizens can trust. Dividing the research into two areas, the study first examined local councils' needs and challenges. Of the 23 Service Heads, Strategy Leads, Chief Executives and former Chief Executives we spoke to, 81% said funding was one of their biggest challenges, while 71% highlighted increasing demand for services.

We then looked at what citizens expected, how they wanted to interact with their council, and what frustrated them most. This highlighted that quality was more important than speed, with people saying their priorities were ease of use, a choice of services, and getting the right outcome.

There’s certainly demand for digital services, with 40% of respondents saying their preferred interaction would be through the council website. Citizens report that, for certain transactions, online is easier, feels more private, and less intrusive. But only 18% of current interactions take place online, partly because citizens can’t find what they need. People rely on more expensive channels, such as walk-in centres and call centres, when they feel digital access fails them as a first point of call.

By putting people first when designing services, councils can build trust with citizens, and make access easy and simple. Local authorities need strategies that correlate broad, complex data with rich, direct engagement and careful service design. This will create a future that supports and builds on the needs of local communities.

At Capita, we’re helping improve how citizens interact digitally with their local authorities, using our experience and expertise to make things better for everyone.

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