Despite looking for solutions to remain afloat, leaders in local authorities are struggling to balance their budgets and to serve their communities adequately.

This financial year many local authorities have increased council tax in order to help fund the gaps faced by financial cuts from central government. Over half (85 out of 151) of councils with adult social care in their remit, utilised some or all their remaining ‘adult social care precept’ flexibility when setting their council tax.

But is this problem-solving approach the right one to balance the books?

It is predicted that by 2030, adults of working age with physical and learning disabilities will increase by 15% and 21% respectively, and those with mental health problems by 14%. Alongside this, the population is set to rise by 6.5% in the same period. And with the current climate of economic uncertainty it looks like the year on year trend of central government cuts is not slowing down anytime soon. Raising tax is one means of handling this increased demand, as is improving current processes, but a simple look at the maths shows that this is clearly not a sustainable model.

Insight from the vast quantities of data councils possess is one-way councils have started to respond to increasing demand

We typically see good insights in pockets across authorities, but rarely are we seeing a systematic use of data modelling, data science and predictive models that use data from across the authority overlaid with partner and private sector data to get a deep understanding of the root cause of issues. Where this has been done successfully, like at the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, this has both enabled the authority to make significant financial savings, but just as importantly, made a profound difference to the lives of the people in its care. Barking & Dagenham is one of the only authorities in the country reducing homelessness, and insight from data has been at the core of this approach. The council has successfully used this to identify the root cause of homelessness in the borough and tackle issues holistically, rather than reactively dealing with the present situation.

Without a shift in thinking and a willingness to change, insight won’t deliver outcomes

We predict that having an Insight function will become an indispensable capability every authority will need to have to survive. However, this capability will only have a material impact if it is introduced alongside a change in thinking. A simple hypotheses of this effective approach is – could we accurately predict not only how many people will be coming into residential care but who they are and when they are likely to require support, and could we then use this insight to enable those people to live at home longer to improve their outcomes and reduce the cost of residential care? At one county we looked at, just delaying 10% of residential care placements by one year would save circa £5m, so the prize is one worth chasing.

However, this insight is only useful if officers are willing to introduce new ways of thinking. This requires officers to be given the freedom to innovate and change, and the encouragement to do so, plus investment in enabling technologies such as personalised digital marketing for example, to find volunteers, simple IoT (Internet of Things) solutions (like the Alexa Echo Show) to enable longer independence and reduce loneliness. Without that freedom and encouragement to think outside of the traditional approaches the investment in Insight will be of limited value.

Is this an approach you could take forward?

Every authority has made great strides in taking out cost, but for most authorities, salami-slicing and traditional transformation approaches are reaching the limit of their potential. Data insight and predictive analytics have the potential to be genuine game-changers for the sector as it struggles to cope with increased demand and reduced budgets. The advancements allow a more informed view of demand and causal effect which will enable much earlier and more targeted intervention that is cross-service, preventative and significantly less expensive.

If you would be interested in finding out more about the examples we are seeing across the sector, please contact us.