An escalating cost of living crisis, rising levels of inflation, and the ongoing pandemic have exposed the vast economic, health and social inequalities across the UK. The North/South divide has reportedly widened as a result, with the cost-of-living crisis having disproportionately affected the UK’s most deprived regions.

The publication of the government’s Levelling Up Whitepaper aims to address this need by setting out ambitious plans to narrow the country’s geographical, social and economic inequalities. This has promised to boost productivity, improve access to public services, and raise living standards across the UK – while also placing local leaders at the centre of wider government decision-making.

However, in order for this to be achieved, leaders of local communities must be equipped with the tools, knowledge, and information needed to drive this transformation going forwards. While not a silver-bullet solution, technology could be the answer to creating jobs, enhancing service delivery, and streamlining local authority processes in the months and years ahead.

Driving economic growth beyond the Southeast 

New research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research has shown that automation has the potential to increase productivity across the UK by 15%, particularly in critical services industries such as transportation and healthcare. This could create up to 3.3 million additional jobs across the country, helping to narrow the current North/South divide.

In fact, a recent study has predicted the creation of 365,000 jobs by 2050 due to the transition to net zero, with the Northwest seeing the highest number of new roles in the UK. This growth will also be concentrated in specific sectors, such as the production of electric vehicles and electrical equipment.

Key to achieving this is narrowing the gap between public sector organisations and technology companies – from multinational corporates, all the way to smaller start-ups. However, despite living in an age of connectivity, technology companies and local decision-makers often work separately from one another.

Business networks can play a crucial role in filling this gap by offering a combination of products, services and platforms for transacting, analysing and optimising the vast swathe of processes needed to function as a business in a modern globalised economy. For example, the SAP Business Network can help public sector organisations become a lead coordinator within their region. Local authorities can use these business networks to direct public sector procurement spend, providing local businesses and start-ups with a fully digitalised process that reaches across suppliers, services and providers.

Streamlining processes and enhancing service delivery

With public sector organisations facing unprecedented demands for their services, adopting an agile operating model is now vital. This means being able to understand the long-term demands and requirements of citizens, and using these to inform ongoing improvements to service delivery. Agile organisations are also generally more flexible in their adoption and deployment of new technologies, allowing them to continually adapt their operations in line with socio-economic changes.

Software such as financial spend management can also help streamline local authority processes by freeing up an organisation’s time and allowing businesses to allocate their resources towards larger priorities. With added capacity, this could help support local activities such start-ups, mentoring and coaching. This can help public sector organisations deliver a seamless, efficient and more agile service to citizens in their region.

Using data to build citizen profiles

Accounting for the needs and demands of citizens when streamlining and modernising business processes will allow public sector organisations to incorporate citizen feedback into the decision-making process. This will help organisations deliver a citizen-centric programme that caters to the issues that matter to local communities.

Collecting sentiment data from citizens about their experiences with public sector services and storing the information in a unified customer data platform can allow public sector organisations to build a robust profile of respondents. When combined with business process intelligence data, organisations can not only place citizens at the heart of local government decision-making, but also identify areas that require improvement. This data could also be used to support local economic regeneration activities for employment, encouraging the competitiveness and prosperity of local regions.

A key example of this was the adoption of key technology by Christchurch City Council in 2018. This enabled the council to effectively visualise constituent service requests, helping to develop a greater understanding of citizens. As a result, the council has been able to adopt a citizen-first approach, meaning they can effectively serve and represent constituents in the years ahead.

While there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach towards levelling up the UK, technology and digital transformation could help drive economic growth, enhance service delivery, and provide greater insight into citizen demands. This will allow the public sector to adopt a citizen-centric approach, while also helping to meet future targets for levelling up.

Satpal Biant is head of Public Sector for SAP UK&I.