Celebrating 4 Years of the Local Digital Declaration

It was April 2019 when the idea of a shared LocalGov Income Management System (IMS) first flickered into life.

Barnsley Council had just parted ways with their incumbent IMS supplier and had developed their own web-based solution to orchestrate the thousands of payments arriving with them everyday. Happy with their success, they openly shared details of their achievement and offered to give away their software to any councils looking for a fresh alternative product.

That innocuous offer led to a meeting with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Culture (DLUCH) and before May 2019 was out, a collaborative project team had been formed to make it a reality. Something that was really made possible thanks to the Local Digital Declaration (LDD).

Less than a year earlier, Barnsley had co-authored the LDD along with 45 other organisations including DLUCH, the Government Digital Service (GDS), many local public sector bodies and over 20 local authorities. It called on the sector to take collaborative actions to improve local digital services for residents, supporting more diversity and competition in the public sector IT market, and offering better value-for-money by building reusable patterns and standards.

Today the Declaration sits at the heart of a digital movement and has already been signed by 288 local authorities and supporting organisations in England - each committing to a first action in support of its principles and ambitions. Those actions are both supported and enabled by the Local Digital Fund (LDF) which invites councils to work together to address common local service challenges in common, reusable ways.

Barnsley, working with Allerdale Borough Council (BC), Cherwell District Council (DC), North East Lincolnshire Council, Sheffield City Council and Huntingdonshire DC did just that and in September 2019 received £80,000 to discover how shareable the IMS was and how well it might solve the common challenge of processing income in councils. Over 5 months, partnered with dxw - a diverse multidisciplinary team of digital design, technology and delivery specialists - this project team of 7 organisations met with other council’s nationwide to demo Barnsley’s IMS, discuss its features and identify any gaps it might have in meeting the national need. The Discovery Report was released in January 2020.

The Discovery Phase concluded that there was appetite for a new IMS product in the market. One that could offer significant resourcing efficiencies in council’s and potentially large savings. But the current offer required several new pieces of functionality to be suitable - functionality that could be designed and tested with council’s through an Alpha Phase of the project.

A smaller, more focussed project team made up of Barnsley MBC, Huntingdonshire DC and Dorset Council submitted a bid for additional funding in February 2020 and received £100,000 the following month. The Alpha Report, containing detailed working prototypes, release options, commercial support models and benefits proposals was released in September 2020.

After a few false starts throughout the midst of the global Covid-19 pandemic, a subsequent Beta Phase began in September 2021, funded by an additional £350,000 from the Local Digital Fund and with Lewisham Council on the collaborative team. This phase continues today and is focussed on turning the prototypes into live functionality, releasing the codebase as an open-source product and working with private sector IT suppliers to develop commercial support offers around it. When complete, councils will have access to an enhanced “LocalGov IMS” that they can adopt and support themselves, or buy from trusted partners via the GCloud Framework.

The Local Digital Declaration has been truly groundbreaking in opening up the boundaries between councils, facilitating communication and enabling true collaboration. It’s given the public sector a mechanism through which it can redesign its digital services around the needs of the people that use them, break the dependence on inflexible and expensive technology that doesn’t join up effectively and embed an open culture that values and incentivises working collaboratively for the public good.

We’re proud to be a part of this movement. We’re thankful for the opportunity it provides. We’re proud of the Local Digital Declaration.