Feb 2nd 2022

Local councils experiencing surge in demand for digital services as pandemic drives citizens online

  • Freedom of Information Requests Sourced by Acquia reveal 27% increase in digital uptake
  • Adoption of open standards and common components worryingly low, fueling inefficiencies

Reading, UK – 2nd February 2022 – The pandemic has fueled uptake of local councils’ digital services, with usage increasing by 27% on average in the 12 months from summer 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, Freedom of Information (FOI) requests sourced by digital experience company Acquia have revealed. With e-commerce transactions only increasing 7.5% in the UK, the findings indicate just how much UK residents have switched to engaging with local authorities online. The findings also hint that the UK government’s drive to encourage usage of digital services is bearing fruit, with local councils making considerable strides to improve accessibility. A huge 84% stated they have evaluated their website against Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or plan to do so in the next 12 months, helping to ensure greater numbers can access the online services they need.

With local authorities facing a severe funding shortfall of £3.09 billion, greater adoption of digital resources will be instrumental in creating much-needed efficiencies and ensuring residents can still access key public services. However, in the face of these stark funding cuts, it is critical that councils ensure they build digital channels in the most cost-effective and labour-saving way possible.

Worryingly, the FOI responses indicate that usage of open standards and common components and patterns is exceptionally limited, creating unnecessary work and costs. As outlined in the Government’s Service Standards, building on common components ensures teams do not have to “solve problems that have already been solved,” and that users can be provided with a “good experience in a cost-effective way.” Yet despite the guidance that government institutions should use standard government technology components when available, a staggering 78% of local councils don’t use a single one.

Adoption of open standards – designed to help services work consistently and avoid unnecessary work making systems communicate with one another – is also low. Of the 168 councils which responded to the question, just 38% design using open standards, while 25% have in development or do as much as they can. Councils were similarly hesitant to make source code open, with only 11% of respondents opening 100% of their code.

“While it’s promising to see digital uptake increasing, given the budget constraints facing local authorities, it is vital that they develop digital channels in the most efficient way possible,” commented Tom Bianchi, Europe CMO, Acquia. “Taking an open approach – whether by leveraging open source components or standards, or making code open – will allow councils to harness expertise from other developers, maximise efficiencies and accelerate digital transformation goals. Yet despite these clear advantages, it’s concerning that so few have embraced open practices. As the pandemic continues and people increasingly demand digital services, councils must urgently rethink their digital strategies to ensure they can continue to support residents in the most effective and efficient way possible.”

Notes to editors:

The data was sourced from Freedom of Information requests sent to 430 local councils in the UK (borough, district, city), on the 30th of July 2021. Responses from councils were received between July – December 2021.

The FOI requests asked for the following information, with the number of councils which responded to each question listed below: 

  • How has your digital uptake increased over the past 12 months (as measured by the government’s guidelines)? (101 responses)
  • What percentage of your source code your council develops – or which is developed on your behalf by external parties – is made open? (255 responses)
  • What percentage of your components are standard government technology components? (134 responses)
  • Is your website designed using open standards for government? (168 responses)
  • Has your local council website been evaluated against the government’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines? If not, are there plans to do so in the next 12 months? (322 responses)

About Acquia

Acquia empowers the world’s most ambitious brands to create digital customer experiences that matter. With open source Drupal at its core, the Acquia Digital Experience Platform (DXP) enables marketers, developers and IT operations teams at thousands of global organisations to rapidly compose and deploy digital products and services that engage customers, enhance conversions and help businesses stand out. Learn more at https://www.acquia.com.