Midlothian council digital future plans

Friday January 15th 2021

Midlothian Council

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Pupils and council workers have received thousands of laptops and smart devices as Midlothian Council moves towards a ‘truly digital’ future.

The local authority has provided workers with just under 4,000 devices to help them work remotely, either from their homes or out and about.

And it has revealed that 3,800 Chromebooks have also been issued to children from primary one age and upwards to help them access home learning during school closures.

Local authorities across Scotland have seen a move towards digital services accelerated by the pandemic and the need to find new ways to work.

A report by Audit Scotland, released this week, has revealed the pace of change within local authorities has increased as digital technologies have played a vital role in the public sector’s response to the Covid‑19 pandemic.

The report, for the Accounts Commission, said that the pandemic had also heightened awareness of digital exclusion in communities.

In Midlothian, Councillor Derek Milligan, council leader, said that working with the community was at the heart of policy as it moves into a new digital era.

He said: “The council is entering an exciting phase where it will continue to maximise the use of digital technologies in the workplace and education, as well as harnessing the data we collect to help us innovate and redesign our services to better meet local needs.

“Our aim is to design these digital services by engaging with local people – including service users, those who struggle to get access.

“We are building with accessibility in mind and making sure we provide support for those who have accessibility issues.

“Despite the financial challenges facing the council, our aim to become truly digital is being driven by investment in people and technology.”

The Audit Scotland report highlighted the need for councils to establish dedicated committees or groups to focus on digital services, as well as putting people at the heart of their policy.

Midlothian Council has recently established a Digital First Board, led by its chief executive and comprising senior officers of the council together with strategic partner input from the University of Edinburgh and SOCITM Advisory (Society for Innovation, Technology and Modernisation).

The council said the board would report to its cross-party Business Transformation Group.

A spokesperson said: “The Digital First Board’s remit will ensure the council continues to put all citizens at the heart of digital service design, empowering communities and ensuring our vision for digital transformation is delivered across all council services.”

Among recent initiatives through the council’s digital strategies has been the provision of 3,800 digital and mobile devices (laptops, smartphones and tablets) to staff to help them work remotely.

Midlothian Council has supplied about 3,800 Chromebooks and 54 4G dongles to children from primary one upwards since the start of the pandemic, with the council investing in an estimated 2,500 additional devices.

Work is also being carried out to improve digital access to customer services, with the council’s contact centre now operating virtually and new apps are being developed to help people access services including planning, environmental health and social work.

The digital changes are also helping the local authority move towards its carbon neutral by 2030 goal, with travel to and from work and meetings reduced thanks to video technology.

And there has even been a positive impact on paper, as a “digital culture change” is emphasised across services.

The Accounts Commission is calling on the Scottish Government to provide national leadership for local authorities to ensure they can all meet the challenges of moving into digital working.

Andrew Cowie, from the commission, said: ““Councils have worked hard to increase the pace at which digital technology has been introduced due to Covid-19, enabling many vital services to continue.

“Now all councils must focus on putting all citizens at the heart of digital service design, empowering communities to thrive, not just survive.”

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