Cornwall Council: creating Digital Cornwall

In December 2017 Cornwall Council underwent a corporate peer challenge which called for the organisation to embark on a ‘digital revolution’ to transform service delivery to customers.

Efficiency and income generation

Having embraced the challenge by embarking on a three year £18 million Digital Cornwall Programme, the council invited an LGA Productivity Experts review in July 2019 to validate progress and help shape a £55 million second phase through to 2025 that will rethink the future role of councils and how they interact with residents and businesses.

In his report, the LGA Productivity Expert Jos Creese stated:

"Cornwall Council has a huge opportunity to innovate by using technology to underpin digital change. Its geography, unitary status, vision, leadership and a track record in stabilising its IT provision, are all key ingredients for a truly transformative digital programme that can connect and modernise public services for all those in the region. The challenge ahead now lies in sustaining that pace of change, by continuing to build the required capacity, capability and cultural shift."

The challenge

In 2015, Cornwall Council took a bold and legally tested decision to terminate a £160 million strategic partnership with BT just two years into a 10 year outsourced contract due to the under-performance of the provider; this left the organisation with a significant digital deficit and, more importantly, nearly 300 employees that had been moved from pillar to post.

The solution

Just two years later, having brought the services back in-house, the council committed £18 million to fund a three year ‘Digital Cornwall’ Programme to fundamentally address the council’s outdated IT infrastructure by creating the digital foundations to offset the significant risks being carried by the organisation.

The impact

In headline terms the programme has introduced new capabilities – for example, greater self-serve opportunities - that have transformed the experience of customers in accessing and interacting with Council services and giving staff greater flexibility in undertaking their roles. At the same time the programme has delivered a range of outputs, including 1.5 million transactions moved online and recurring savings of circa £2 million across the organisation.

In more detail, Digital Cornwall comprises 22 projects being delivered across three key areas:

  1. a digitally ready Cornwall – providing the technology and digital skills for residents
  2. change how we work – creating a cultural shift through new devices and software
  3. change how we deliver to the customer  - transforming the customer journey by redesigning and digitally enabling process

To ensure we delivered all projects to meet the diverse needs of our organisation and customers, we agreed a set of ‘design principles’ with our key stakeholders. This consistent approach, whilst acknowledging the complexity, size and other change initiatives impacting services, subsequently supported the deployment of flexible end solutions for our customers, whilst aligning to an overall strategic direction for the organisation.

We have fundamentally altered our hardware estate through the implementation of more interactive devices such as meeting room technology, modern devices, public WIFI alongside deployment of more virtual communication tools such as Skype. Some of the most innovative uses for this has been demonstrated through;

  • Virtual multi-agency meetings within Children’s Social Care, where we no longer have to rely on families, partner agencies travelling to one central location.
  • Planning committee meetings, where residents and Members can attend ‘virtually’ from alternative locations or, from home
  • Interactive ‘flip chart’ sessions with people joining for virtual whiteboard sessions from over the county and Skype broadcasts; where we have had up to 160 people dialling into a service briefings, with full audio, video, presentation facilities and two-way interaction

In addition to the above, all staff can request their emails, Skype and other 0365 products on their mobile phones and other devices, which has allowed even greater flexibility for staff to work from any place and any space.

We have worked with HR to underpin the technology changes in our policies, training and wider ways of working, including trialling changes in the design of our office spaces. Bringing about changes across these three disciplines at the same time has helped lever a greater shift to work differently.

Post implementation surveys and data from the above, shows that over 80% of our workforce is actively using the new technologies and we are seeing great outcomes e.g. mileage claims have reduced by 30 per cent or 90,000 business miles per month since the introduction of Skype.

To help embed the change we have secured volunteers in the form of over 200 member and officer digital champions, this has really helped bespoke deployment to maximise uptake across the organisation. 

Whilst the above demonstrates some of the technology changes within the organisation, we are extremely proud of the difference our ground breaking, multi organisation Digital Inclusion Strategy  is making to our residents, as part of becoming ‘A digitally ready Cornwall’.

Our Digital Inclusion focus covers the entire 3,563km of the county, with areas of high deprivation and poverty related to poor health, housing and lower levels of attainment in education, exacerbated by rurality and lack of transport Cornish residents are at high risk of being digitally excluded.

As part of the multi organisation focus, the council has a specific team which focusses on Digital Inclusion working with 500 people a year to get online for the first time by delivering courses and sessions based on the Essential Digital Skills Framework in libraries and community venues.

For individuals and families new to using the internet savings of £560 a year can be made through accessing cheaper prices and deals – this means that since 2014 our team has helped 2,000 residents potentially save over £1 million.

One of our best successes so far this year has been with an elderly man attending one of our library courses – after four weeks he gained enough online skills to enquire after an army pension he thought he had…we recently learned he has received a back dated cheque for £28,000! Learning a few basic digital skills made a life changing difference to a man with chronic breathing difficulties bought on by housing conditions.

The above is just a snapshot of the work we are undertaking as a programme and the difference we are starting to make. Whilst we have delivered over £2 million recurring savings and our other benefits measures are showing strong evidence in improving staff, member and customer experience, there is still much to do and we are excited as we begin to shape the next three years to really build on the foundations we have put it.

How is the new approach being sustained?

 The first phase of our Digital Cornwall Programme was about putting the foundations in place, to enable the second phase to realise our digital potential. As the LGA Productivity Experts review highlighted, Cornwall has the key ingredients for a truly transformative digital Programme - as depicted below - that can connect and modernise public services for all those in the area. The challenge ahead now lies in sustaining that pace of change, by continuing to build the required capacity, capability and cultural shift.

Cornwall image for digital connectivity

Lessons learned

Firstly, the key to success is viewing Digital Cornwall as a whole Council change Programme, not as an ‘IT project’ or even a digital transformation Programme in isolation. Secondly, the need to manage the undeliverable expectations that are generated when a council ‘in-sources’ IT and the absolute need for realism to be applied.


Matt Barton:

Relevant documents