Council ‘nudge units’ needed to tackle rising demand, say consultants

26 Mar 15

Councils should create local versions of the government’s so-called ‘nudge unit’ in a bid to cut the demand for services amid a spending squeeze on town halls, a report has claimed today.

Public services consultancy firm iMPOWER said authorities needed to improve their ability to use behavioural science as a way to reduce demand for services and implement organisational reforms.

The firm polled 125 council chief executives and senior directors and found 123 agreed that demand management formed a significant part of their plans to deal with funding reductions.

However, nearly half of those polled (46.9%) said their organisations did not have the skills needed to adequately deliver programmes to reduce demand.

The inflection point report recommended the creation of Behavioural Insight Hubs, so authorities have the experience and ability to devise behavioural interventions for their own communities.

The recommendation follows the coalition government’s creation of the Behavioural Insights Team in the Cabinet Office in 2010, which attempts to apply insights from behavioural economics and psychology to public policy and services. Among the policy areas it has examined is how to alter tax demands from Revenue & Customs to ensure people pay on time, and how to encourage people to insulate their homes through council tax rebates. It was eventually spun-out from government into a joint venture in 2013.

In today’s report, iMPOWER also urged councils to create what it called ‘observatory units’ that could provide improved information on service performance and address gaps in data to allow for better strategic planning across the authority. This came after two-thirds (67.3%) of senior officers polled cited a lack of appropriate data and information as barrier to reform.

Publishing the report, chief executive Martin Cresswell said local government was dealing with an uncertain economic and political climate.

However, reforms could help councils lead early intervention schemes to help local people avoid unnecessary need for statutory services, which would be a win-win for the local community and for the taxpayer.

‘Despite national level economic improvement it is increasingly clear that local public services are still only in the middle of a decade long period of necessary transformation,’ he stated.

‘However, it is encouraging to see the step change in proactive leadership at a local level about planning for a sustainable future in local public service. This report highlights the shift in thinking of some of the most senior people in local government.’

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