Williams signs up council to improve its digital service

Well this could prove an interesting “challenge” for Croydon, which is, apparently, “a council with a reputation for digital”, according to a press release it issued yesterday.

Neil Williams: council’s new digital chief, promising to do things better

The council press office left the readers of its release to decide whether Croydon has a good or bad “reputation for digital”.

Croydon has one of the least user-friendly websites among London local authorities,  it probably broke all kinds of data protection law by off-shoring the management and control of its entire database to India, and it gained national notoriety when it spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on its controversially procured Crap App, MyCroydon, which was so bad it had to be scrapped earlier this year.

More recently, under the leadership of council chief exec Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini, to fulfil its statutory obligations to those with special educational needs and disabilities, Croydon launched a Local Offer site, which was found to break the law in several respects.

Could that be all about to change, and for the better?

Yesterday’s release announced that the council “has signed a pledge to transform digital services for residents, putting their needs first and radically improving their experiences of interacting with the council online”.

The announcement was made within a month of the arrival at Fisher’s Folly of Neil Williams, the former head of Whitehall’s digital services, who has been appointed as the council’s first chief digital officer.

Croydon’s Local Offer website was full of dead links and straight up sloppy, unfinished work

Williams has immediately signed Croydon up to the Local Digital Declaration, which the council press release described as “A set of principles and commitments that all authorities are being encouraged to sign up to, about working together and in the right way on digital transformation”.

According to the council press release, “The LDD has five main principles”.

The council press office was too effing lazy to actually include those principles in its press release. Or perhaps they hoped no one would read what the principles are?

As the council failed to do so, we’ll help our readers by laying out the LDD five principles here:

  1. We will go even further to redesign our services around the needs of the people using them. This means continuing to prioritise citizen and user needs above professional, organisational and technological silos.
  2. We will “fix our plumbing” to break our dependence on inflexible and expensive technology that doesn’t join up effectively. This means insisting on modular building blocks for the IT we rely on, and open standards to give a common structure to the data we create.
  3. We will design safe, secure and useful ways of sharing information to build trust among our partners and citizens, to better support the most vulnerable members of our communities, and to target our resources more effectively.
  4. We will demonstrate digital leadership, creating the conditions for genuine organisational transformation to happen, and challenging all those we work with to embrace this Local Digital Declaration.
  5. We will embed an open culture that values, incentivises and expects digital ways of working from every member of our workforce. This means working in the open wherever we can, sharing our plans and experience, working collaboratively with other organisations, and reusing good practice.

In short, Croydon Council has signed up to acting and behaving in a manner around its digital performance that it has, until now, often done its utmost to avoid.

“Signing the LDD is entirely consistent with my and the leadership team’s vision for a more digital, user-centred Croydon Council,” Williams said.

“By adopting these principles in common with other local authorities, it connects us as a community so we can learn from each other, and go faster together.

“While central government has made great strides forward in digital transformation in the past decade, local government has been held back by lack of co-ordination across authorities. The LDD is a major step forward in the digital revolution in local government – and, as a council with a reputation for digital and a borough that is home to a thriving tech sector, it’s important Croydon is part of this movement.”

The council press release also quoted Simon Hall, the council cabinet member for finance, who is supposed to have said, “We’re signing the local digital declaration because we want to make it easier, quicker and more satisfying…” yes, more satisfying, “… for all our residents, every time they interact with the council online – whether that’s to make a payment, report a fly tip, or find their local library.”

Hall is part of a council top team which, after scrapping the bug-filled, misfunctioning Crap App, approved the launch of another smartphone application, or Crap App 2.0.

Having cut the number of the council’s call centre staff and reduced the hours when those phone lines are answered, Crap App 2.0 is Hall and Croydon Council’s preferred medium for Council Tax-payers to contact the council. It is supposed to allow residents to report fly tips, dead animals or missed bin collections…

Except Crap App 2.0 has no category for reporting missed bin collections.

Hardly something designed to “make it easier, quicker and more satisfying for all our residents, every time they interact with the council online”, is it?

Of course, there is an ulterior motive for Croydon to sign up to the LDD.

By doing so, it can now bid for a chunk of a £7.5million “digital transformation” fund from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and from Williams’ old bosses at the Government Digital Service. Let’s hope Williams gets his bid document just right, he may need every penny he can get.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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