An audit has been conducted by Ecebs across 100 City and County councils in the UK. The Ecebs Smart Audit assessed local authorities’ existing and future plans for the use of smart technology, which is typically used to provide a range of services.

Most schemes being delivered through smart technology by councils are isolated initiatives that could have been integrated using a shared system across council departments, local authorities and social/health care providers, potentially saving thousands or even millions of pounds. Just 29 per cent of councils in the audit use smart technology to deliver more than two local services.

Nationally, Scottish councils are the ‘smartest’ in the UK, with smart technology being used to deliver on average three public services per council, according to Ecebs. In England, the average number of services being delivered with smart technology is just 1.5 – half that in Scotland.

Southampton City Council’s smartcard system has several uses such as a library card, proof of age, bus pass, to access leisure centres, managing the finances of people in social care and even to register as an organ donor. The council has also experimented with using the card for cashless catering in schools and it plans to enable drivers to use the card to pay a local bridge toll.

David Burdett, Managing Director of Ecebs, said: “Southampton City Council should be applauded for its efforts in modernising local services, and it is not alone. However, a large proportion of the UK’s local authorities have still to truly embrace technology across multiple services.

“Councils can cut costs and deliver better local services by sharing technology. Multi-application smartcards and associated technology enable this shared service vision to be delivered today. If we don’t upgrade our local services with new technology we will have missed a huge opportunity to create a more efficient, simpler system for everyone.”

The Ecebs Smart Audit revealed local transport to be the most common use for smart technology, with 49% having introduced smartcards for initiatives such as national concessionary travel schemes.

Use in schools was the second most popular method for using smart technology, with 38 per cent of councils claiming to have done so. Third most popular was I.D. services (28%) and fourth was library services (27%) such as membership or book renewals.

The survey also showed that local authorities are planning to reduce their investment in smart technology next year as Government budget cuts affect councils’ ability to make improvements to local services.

David Burdett added: “”The truth is, the foundations for change have already been laid – most local authorities now have smart transport systems in place, and one in three has introduced smart payments in schools. The technology is available to enable those services to be expanded without the need for huge extra investment in new technology or infrastructure.

“We can now deliver technology that can be implemented across multiple services while offering a range of benefits to residents and local authorities including fraud detection, a full audit trail, reduced administration costs and extensive management information. It’s a false economy simply to cut services – we need think smarter, literally.”

Only 12 per cent of UK councils plan to invest in smart technology in the foreseeable future as the focus turns to maintaining rather than improving essential services. This is a dramatic reduction from the 73 per cent of councils that have already taken steps to improve local services with smart technology, with the majority (49%) focused on smartcards used for transport initiatives such as national concessionary travel schemes.

Ecebs Smart Audit concluded in August 2011 amongst county and city councils only. All information on smart services was obtained directly from councils. 113 requests for information were submitted, with 100 responses.