Once you’ve understood the local need, there’s a question of funding the work, both to get started and over the long term. Here’s the approach we’ve followed for 100% Digital Leeds – we’d love to hear your experiences.
For the first two years after Leeds City Council Scrutiny Board launched an inquiry into digital inclusion, Officers from across the Council (in particular within the Library Service) worked on the response as part of their existing duties.
As the scale of the task became apparent, it also became clear that this approach was not going to achieve the level of impact and the Desired Outcomes that the Board, the Council and the wider city wanted to see.
Although the Scrutiny Board does not have a budget and cannot authorise spending, our reports to the Board successfully made the case for the investment required and the return on investment that could be achieved.
Starting small and growing
In his role leading the response to the Inquiry, the Council’s Chief Digital and Information Officer had some budget to invest into the 100% Digital Leeds programme. He also championed digital inclusion as a strategic priority in discussions across the Council and secured investment from other departments.
We wrote Business Cases based on our Scrutiny reports to make the case for those investments and defined our ‘ask’ as follows:
- A team to lead, manage and coordinate the 100% Digital Leeds programme
- Strategic support from an external organisation to build the skills of the team to ensure sustainability of the programme
- Expand our tablet lending scheme after a successful pilot and proof of concept
Our report in January 2018 set out the financial position at the time:
Previous updates to the Board set out a baseline for the potential benefits of digital inclusion to individuals and the wider city and economy. We noted that digital inclusion leads to higher earnings, more people in employment, time and cost savings, savings to the NHS and social care as well as improved outcomes and increased self-sufficiency for individuals.
Since our last update to Scrutiny Board we have secured investment into the 100% Digital Leeds Digital Inclusion programme. Securing this investment has been challenging as it is difficult to identify direct savings resulting from those investments.
We have not been able to secure investment based on prevention and cost avoidance alone. Focusing on the wider benefits makes it hard to justify sustained investment from a single source into digital inclusion programmes because the benefits of digital inclusion accrue across a range of indicators.
This has a direct impact on the Board’s recommendation that we “identify the potential level of Council resources that could be appropriated to support the recommendations identified in this report and increase digital inclusion”.
The funding that we have secured from Housing, for example, is linked to the introduction of online systems and channel shift for Housing services. Narrow return on investment can be delivered by motivating tenants and giving them the digital skills and/or equipment to transact online.
Some efficiencies have already been factored in to the move to ‘Digital by Default’ for Housing services, but we know that some citizens will not/cannot use online channels without additional interventions.
The funding from Housing will enable us to deliver those targeted interventions and evidence that narrow return on the investment. However, we also know that not all of the return on Housing’s investment will accrue to Housing.
Housing tenants and other citizens who are digitally excluded are also likely to be unemployed or on a low income, be chronically ill or disabled, have low literacy levels or be from lower socio-economic groups.
Digital inclusion can help to tackle poverty, reduce the inequalities that still exist and support the council’s vision of a Compassionate City with a Strong Economy. The investment from Housing into our digital inclusion programme will see people achieving better health and wellbeing outcomes, improve their financial capability and employment prospects and reduce their social isolation. By increasing digital inclusion in this way we will realise benefits across a range of indicators.
To fully evidence the return on investment into our digital inclusion programme we would need to record the impact on individuals, their families, local communities and the wider city and economy. It is possible to model savings and the potential additional economic benefits of digital inclusion for citizens, including cost/time savings, gains in earnings and employment, and savings to the NHS from increased health and wellbeing. This modelling exercise is a longer term piece of work and is one of the requirements for the external organisation that we will procure to support our digital inclusion programme.
As a result of these issues we have had to find innovative solutions to fund this work as part of the delivery of other projects and programmes. There are three strands of investment into the digital inclusion programme:
Investment strand Amount Funding Source Appoint permanent staff:
3 x Digital Inclusion Coordinators
1 x Digital Inclusion Support Officer
Housing IT Solutions Programme Procure external supplier for strategic support to build our digital inclusion network, embed sustainability and evidence return on investment Approx.
Smart Cities Expand tablet lending scheme – including hardware, connectivity & professional services Approx.
DIS Essential Services Capital Programme
Winning funding from other areas of the council
We successfully made the case that investment into digital inclusion at a city level needs to cut across siloes and be seen as everyone’s priority. During our first year of activity after the 100% Digital Leeds team was appointed in mid-2018, we secured additional funding from a range of sources.
Our report to Council Scrutiny Board in February 2019 set out the updated position:
At our last update to Scrutiny Board we reported £350,000 of council investment into the 100% Digital Leeds programme. In August 2018 we successfully applied for an additional £400,000 investment from the Business Rates Pool. Taken together, this funding has enabled us to:
- Appoint a Digital Inclusion team to coordinate the 100% Digital Leeds programme and build a digital inclusion network across Leeds.
This is a unique approach that has produced tangible benefits. We are not aware of any other city in the UK that has seen this level of council investment into their digital inclusion programme. The work of the team is reflected throughout this report in the impressive progress that we have made to date.
- Launch an expanded tablet lending scheme.
We have 300 iPads available for organisations to borrow to trial new ways of working with their service users. The tablets are building confidence and capacity in organisations across Leeds.
- Introduce grants for community organisations to reduce the barriers to digital inclusion.
The scheme will be launched after April 2019 with £100,000 to be distributed as small grants to community organisations. Criteria are currently being agreed for Applications, Reporting and KPIs.
- Expand free council Wi-Fi into 20 community buildings.
The Digital Inclusion team is working with the Smart Leeds team and the Communities teams to identify priority locations for this.
- Work with an external supplier for strategic support to build our digital inclusion network, embed sustainability and evidence return on investment.
Good Things Foundation were appointed after a Procurement exercise and started working with us in June 2018. Their approach is successfully building the skills and capacity of the digital inclusion team and the wider digital inclusion network.
In addition to the £750,000 outlined above, we have agreement in principle for another £200,000 of funding into our digital inclusion programme:
- £150,000 from Local Integrated Better Care Fund
This two year project will work to develop a Health and Social Care focused digital inclusion offer for people living with long term conditions. It will include another Digital Inclusion Coordinator to work as part of the existing digital inclusion team
- £50,000 from NHS Digital for a Widening Digital Participation Programme Pathfinder
This one year project will target our digital inclusion activities at improving outcomes for people with dementia and their families/carers. We will support people with dementia to benefit from digital innovation to manage their condition to improve health, wellbeing and independence. Funding has been agreed from April 2019
The ongoing Scrutiny Board inquiry into digital inclusion, which began in 2015 and has received annual updates since then, has helped us to achieve this investment.
Funders from within the council and elsewhere are reassured that appropriate programme governance and oversight is in place. This is supplemented by 100% Digital Leeds reporting to Smart Cities Portfolio Board and Housing IT Solutions Implementation Board.
Having secured this level of investment from different sources across different strands of the 100% Digital Leeds programme, we needed to ensure we had robust and effective methods for recording, evaluating and reporting our work.