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What are Council Bosses doing to get ready for AI?

Last week Tony Blair held his Future of Britain conference and there was a clear and obvious trend; according to every policy expert engaged with contemporary policy, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is about to change Britain in a way that the internet and smart phone has.

So what does this mean for local government?

Quite often, local government is at the back of the queue for technology deployment. The NHS first, followed by organisations like the DWP and Cabinet Office, then local government can fend for itself.

The truth is that many councils outside of some of the major London Boroughs and big city Mets, are likely confused about what AI means for the market and what the art of the possible is.

What seems obvious that by harnessing AI technologies, councils can improve service delivery, streamline operations, and deliver better outcomes for their communities. But how?

AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can be integrated into council websites and mobile applications to offer real-time support and personalised assistance to residents and businesses. These virtual agents can address common queries, provide information on council services, and guide residents through various processes, which enhances engagement and accessibility. Streamlining inquiries from Councillors, stakeholders, residents, and businesses would mean Councils could focus on dedicate staff onto the strategic issues of most importance and complexity.

With officers able to spend more time on strategy, AI-driven sentiment analysis can also help them to really understand the public’s views on policies, projects, and services, enabling them to make informed decisions based on community feedback and achieve much better outcomes and ROI. This would be invaluable to planning departments embarking on local plan consultations or regeneration teams who are seeking to transform town and city centres.

As we have heard a lot since the Uxbridge by-election, traffic and travel will continue to be important to local government in the fight for clean air and net zero. AI-powered traffic management systems can be instrumental in reducing congestion and enhancing road safety. By analysing real-time data from traffic cameras, sensors, and GPS devices, AI algorithms can optimise traffic signal timings and identify congestion-prone areas, thereby improving traffic flow. Additionally, councils can use AI to develop dynamic routing systems, guiding drivers to less congested routes and reducing travel time for residents.

And it isn’t just traffic where it can help. AI can process data from environmental sensors, satellites, and weather stations to monitor air quality, water resources, and wildlife patterns. In an age where DEFRA is keen for Councils to more closely monitor and report on air quality and wildlife habitat, this can be a tool that is more easily deployed than any other technology on the market.

Indeed, in an age of increasing demand and reducing resources, the ability to deploy money and people into the areas of most need is a constant challenge and balance for Councils. AI-driven data analytics and predictive modelling `can analyse historical data and patterns to forecast demand for specific services, helping councils allocate resources efficiently and anticipate areas that require additional attention. In Adult Social Care, Children’s, Leisure, and Waste Services as well as in Housing repairs, to name just a few service areas, such technology could save the council millions of pounds and hours of time in designing the most productive route patterns, rotas and prevention models.

Machine learning algorithms can analyse demographic data and past interactions to create personalised service plans for residents, such as social care for the elderly or vulnerable people. This approach helps councils provide more effective and targeted support, enhancing the overall health and wellbeing of their communities.

And AI can make communities much safer for residents and business. Facial recognition systems can aid law enforcement agencies in identifying suspects and locating missing individuals, thus improving crime prevention and resolution.

Working with the police, AI-powered predictive policing can analyse crime data to identify trends and ensure that the public sector response is to target the allocation of resources more effectively, leading to more prevention of crime and disorder.

This is just a small sample of ways in which councils can embrace AI. Understanding that this will affect the services of every Director and every Head of Service and every Team Manager withing every Council, is critical. Council CEOs should be considering right now, how they are going to go about bringing in expertise and knowledge to understand what the art of the possible is and ensure their officers are equipped with the understanding they need to begin the journey to transform their services using AI.

It won’t be easy, but until the sector collectively understands what AI can do, how it can help and what level of risk and reward it wants from technology, the opportunities it presents, will continue to be missed.

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