16th January 2024
Getting ready for change
The UK’s population continues to evolve, bringing new expectations and challenges for local government. Civica’s Jeff Hewitt asks how the sector can best prepare…
From an ageing population and digital exclusion to access to employment and skills for young people, local authorities across the UK are dealing with many challenges daily – against a backdrop of financial challenges and political change.
We’ve spent the past 12 months talking to current and future council leaders in a series of Future Of Local Government roundtables with Solace. In our latest session in Birmingham, we discussed the best ways to stay agile and flexible in the face of the growing need to adapt spaces and services for populations both now and in the future.
At South Staffordshire, the Council’s approach to changing expectations is three-fold; Mark Jenkinson Assistant Director, Community Services explained this as, “Small, nimble and connected.
“We’re small enough to remain close to our communities, but big enough to make a difference. Being nimble means staying flexible to respond to community sensitivities, but unfaltering on our ambition for the district. Finally, we are connected to forge productive ways of working, and confident to enhance our digital agenda.”
The ageing factor
One recurring topic was the UK’s ageing population. According to the Office for National Statistics by 2066 there will be a further 8.6 million projected UK residents aged 65+ years: making the total number 20.4 million (26% of the total population). The fastest increase will be in the 85+ years age group which will treble to 5.1 million people (7% of the UK population) by 2066.
Within the UK, the older population is not equally spread across local areas, with older people making up higher proportions of the populations of rural and coastal areas than urban areas. This is a deciding factor in how councils, particularly in more rural areas, need to plan both physical and digital services for residents.
There’s an assumption that the elderly are not as digitally literate as younger people but this is not always the case. Providing easy digital access to services is one way forward to increase engagement in this demographic, while also gathering the data needed to plan better services for the future. Local leaders at the roundtable agreed that advances in assisted technology and home sensors will be of increasing value – being able to share data with families and those in the community, as well as the local authority, will speed up action to help if needed.
Keeping talent in rural areas
Another issue for councils, especially in more rural areas, is keeping young, skilled workers in the area to help boost the local economy and enable people to stay local rather than having to move away to find opportunities.
One way to enable this is to offer skills and training for young people by establishing workshops, apprenticeship programmes or partnering with local businesses on internships and other opportunities. Collaborating with schools and community organisations helps to tailor training to meet the specific needs and interests of young people in the area. Improving access to quality education, offering diverse job opportunities – even supporting entrepreneurship – are all crucial factors.
The good news, regardless of specific demographics, is that the intelligence councils can gather from data can help them understand the needs, preferences and demographics of their communities. It will inform how local authorities plan better and support communities for the future – both with targeted interventions and wider developments.
There’s no doubt that councils face a huge challenge in meeting the needs of everyone in the wider community, whether a rural borough council or a large inner-city borough. But by engaging regularly both face-to-face and via digital platforms, providing opportunities and training and using data effectively, councils can continue to drive a clearer direction for the future.
Interim Head of Economy and Environment at Powys County Council
We're running a programme called Sustainable Powys, looking at how we need to deliver services for our populations for the future. We’re really engaging to understand what matters most and designing a future that fits within our finances and delivers the things that are important.
We need to create cohesive communities that are connected and can support each other. Through technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) we can support people to connect better. In fact, AI will play a vital role terms of trends data, demographics, understanding political and societal issues and the use of data in determining the future.
Jeff Hewitt is Executive Director at Civica. In partnership with Solace, this workshop forms part of a series of #FutureOfLocalGov sessions where we discuss challenges facing local government and getting future ready.