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Could Paperless Working Save Council Budgets?
A recent study by thinktank the Policy Exchange claimed that the government could save large amounts of money by moving Whitehall to paperless offices. If so, the same could be true of local authorities desperately trying to balance their books.
Few cuts have been more controversial than the ones taken at local level by decision makers obliged to find savings and pushed by government incentives not to raise council tax. Any proposal to close a local library, swimming baths, leisure centre or cut back on essential services is a tough one â€“ and liable to cause widespread protest. Naturally enough, this has led to all kinds of anger locally as well as nationally â€“ not least as the opposition has claimed that the government is forcing larger cuts on poorer areas.
One solution may be to have a survey of what to cut and what to keep, something Stoke-on-Trent City Council is currently doing. The preamble to its survey states: "This is about finding out those services and areas which are important to you and which you would like to see invested in the most. As no budget proposals have yet been put forward, we are not able to answer questions about specific services. "The government has said that we have to spend less money. We've already made big savings – £77 million in three years – and have made every effort to keep the impact on services to Stoke-on-Trent people to a minimum. But we need to save more – and we are here to listen to your views."
However, if local authorities do want to cut their spending further, one way may indeed be to change the way administration works. According to the recent Policy Exchange proposals, Whitehall could save ÂŁ70 billion by 2020 if it went paperless, arguing that its functions could be made not just cheaper but friendlier to end users by being available online and instantly at the click of the mouse or swipe of the smart screen.
Stoke-on-Trent's aim is to save around £100 million over four years. It noted that of its current £535 million budget, £61 million is earmarked for purposes such as administration, human resources and IT, along with a few other costs. That may leave some scope for the increased use of new technology like the cloud and less use of more expensive paper document filing to help trim the budget.
However, the council's own figures also show that it has already saved £77 million in the first wave of austerity cuts. This has included "delivering efficiencies" (£26 million) and "redesigning services" (£32 million), so it may be that some of the savings that could be made in this area have already been achieved. One way more might be achieved is the use of the IT budget – however much is left – to invest in the latest technology to increase access to data file sharing, the cloud and so on.
The same may be the case for other local authorities, although there might be some that have an advantage over others in being able to pool resources with their neighbours. This can particularly apply in major conurbations such as Greater Manchester, where the ten local authorities have combined a number of functions to save money. This fits well with the wider strategy of developing the city region, through the umbrella body of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority â€“ formed in 2011 â€“ under which a common policy approach is taken towards issues like policing and crime, housing and planning, energy, the environment and as transport.
Having one office for some functions instead of ten makes for an obvious efficiency saving, but in addition to this the use of the cloud and other means of ensuring data can be accessed remotely makes sense in a geographically larger area, where more staff could be further away from any paper documentation stored in a single office. So it may just be that by using the latest online and IT functions available to ensure better and more efficient access to information, local authorities and Whitehall alike can help save cash and ensure more of their limited funds can be spent on frontline services.
Storetec News/Blogs. " http://www.storetec.net/news-blog/could-paperless-working-save-counc ". â€˜Could Paperless Working Save Council Budgets. September 17, 2013. Storetec.