Taking control of the devolution revolution

13 September 2016

Sue Holloway, Director of Services Strategy

Technology enables us to do a lot more online, but we still experience public services locally. We report crimes to our police force, use the schools and GPs closest to home and rely on councils for everything from social care to planning.

These organisations know what we need and how much it costs, so giving them greater control is a no brainer. And once you think about trying to prevent those needs rather than meet them, there’s an even greater incentive to pool knowledge and funding.


Strong leadership is vital because moving budgets locally is just a means to an end. We need ambitious plans for thriving communities, the creativity to bring them to life and the determination to create something that hasn’t existed before. That’s where digital comes in.

Every local government professional I’ve met wants to deliver more and better services but needs the right data to do it. They want security not silos, but data sharing is a legal minefield and practical nightmare, so silos are where they end up.

The creation of GM-Connect by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority is a hugely positive step, as is the announcement of a new London data office. The experience these areas already have through informal collaboration and shared services will be useful for solving some of the most intractable problems, like how organisations secure investment for initiatives that deliver huge cost savings to someone else.

But if I could ask just one thing of each new regional leader, it’s that they make the case for why the collection and sharing of data is the difference between a good service and a great one.

Data sharing

We’re a nation of social media sharers but haven’t yet shrugged off our distrust of sharing things with government. I’m not sure if this distrust is of ‘big government’ only, fuelled by the failure of big IT projects, or if it travels down to a local level but we have to change the tone of the debate to have any chance of moving forward.

In our experience, being clear about the benefits of data collection and sharing means that people are happy to give their consent. A good example is the National Joint Registry, which holds detailed information on millions of joint replacement surgeries.

When patients are asked for consent for their data to be added to the NJR, over 90% say yes and the benefits are clear. Its existence meant the surgeon could select exactly the right implant; that the device manufacturer could improve the implants over time; and that patients can be contacted quickly in the event of a recall. The same registry is now being used to track the introduction of new medical devices, with huge benefits for patient safety.

Models like these – where different parts of the public and private sector have access to the data they need for better decisions – are technically possible, genuinely transformational and can enjoy strong public support.

It’s a model that new leaders might consider to help make devolution a genuine revolution.

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