Could AI be the answer to local government’s budget woes?

a glass building with people walking around

As local authorities strive to deliver better service with fewer resources, many are exploring the potential of AI to transform efficiency and effectiveness.

Local government has a mandate to deliver vital services to residents, visitors and businesses. The challenge facing councils today is that they must deliver these services, in line with legislation and standards, at a time of increasing need but diminishing funds.

It’s a quest in which AI is set to play a key role. Across the UK, councils are exploring techniques like robotic process automation, sensor-equipped devices and predictive analytics – both to make services more efficient, and to be smarter about where and how to focus their resources.

Predictive models identify at-risk children and adults

Social care is one area where AI has many potential applications. At Suffolk County Council’s Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), for example, a pilot project with the University of Essex is using predictive modelling to identify children and vulnerable adults who may require an urgent intervention from one of the participating agencies.

Triaging those cases manually is a very time-consuming task, which often results in false negatives and a high risk that urgent cases might be missed. By analysing cases put forward by the different agencies, the algorithm can swiftly rank the severity of cases presented, enabling timely action for the most severe cases.

Newcastle City Council’s 2020 Group is using a similar predictive model to help identify children who are at risk of becoming Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET), according to a 2016 NESTA report. By pooling and analysing data from different services and databases, the Group has identified the highest risk factors leading to NEET. They can now target their resources most effectively to keep more young adults in education, training or employment.

Assistive technologies support independent living

Elsewhere, councils are evaluating the use of assistive technologies; sensor-equipped devices that support independent living for the elderly and disabled and reduce the workload on an increasingly strained social care system.

In a recent report, Accelerating competitive advantage with AI, Microsoft highlights WeWALK , a smart device for visually impaired people that attaches to the top of a white cane. Data from the device’s sensors is analysed by AI in the cloud to understand how each user navigates their environment. The device can then provide assistance and feedback as the user moves around, boosting their confidence and ability to participate independently in daily activities like work and travel.

Wigan Council is one local authority that makes assistive technologies available to vulnerable residents, using the data they generate to carry out timely interventions. CommunityCare cites the case of an elderly Wigan resident whose sensor-equipped home was able to alert social care providers that she had fallen in her bathroom, allowing them to come to her aid.

AI can highlight where to focus limited resources

AI-driven predictive analytics are also starting to help local authorities and agencies identify where best to focus often-limited resources.

Numerous police forces use mapping data to identify ‘hotspots’ where crimes are more likely to occur, while some forces and councils are also combining data from entities like the NHS, schools, housing associations and social care providers to identify people who might be at risk of committing a crime or becoming a victim of crime.

In September 2018, the Guardian reported that both Hackney and Thurrock councils have used predictive analytics in a bid to prevent child abuse, and in February 2019, it highlighted a project led by West Midlands Police, in which predictive analytics are applied to historical police data to identify areas where resources can most effectively be deployed.

With growing concern over which data is used and whether predictive models can be assured to be free of bias, it’s an area where local government is rightly treading carefully. But with the right guardrails and governance in place, predictive analytics are set to play a growing role in helping police forces and local authorities to tackle crime.

AI is more accessible to local government – but skills are needed too

As the cost of sensors, cloud computing and AI technologies all continue to fall, they are becoming much more accessible and affordable at local government level. Over the coming years we’ll likely see AI become an integral element of many council initiatives – not just as pilot projects, but embedded within day-to-day operations.

To make the most of that potential, local authorities will need AI and data science expertise that can be costly to hire inhouse. Partnering with external experts – whether from a nearby university or a specialist consultancy like Adatis – is a good way to get projects off the ground quickly, and transfer up-to-date skills to the inhouse team.

Read more in our Data in Local Government white paper

We explore further the potential for AI in local government in our new white paper, Data: The Key to Efficient and Effective Local Government . Download your copy and see how local authorities can overcome technical barriers and start unlocking the full value of their data.