We at Sheffield Council are planning a ‘Move to Digital’. We will engage key council staff, communities and citizens. We will enable you to re-design and transform services. We will embed the Cloud into our DNA as we journey towards a Smart City. If you are thinking “that sounds like a steaming pile of cobblers”, […]

We at Sheffield Council are planning a ‘Move to Digital’. We will engage key council staff, communities and citizens. We will enable you to re-design and transform services. We will embed the Cloud into our DNA as we journey towards a Smart City. If you are thinking “that sounds like a steaming pile of cobblers”, then you’re thinking old style analogue. This is the future.

We’re not going to calmly review processes and have a think about how they might be automated. Such an approach might sound sensible, but we want to go beyond sensible. We are pushing digital transformation with a consultant on £300 a day. Our plan is to have a Council full of digital extremists willing to die for digital. We’re going to do this by saying the word ‘digital’ over and over again. We say it 402 times in our draft Digital Strategy Programme report. That’s more than we say ‘and’ or ‘is’ or ‘STUPINORMOUS!’. You can’t read the Digital Strategy Programme report online. We believe passionately in ‘open data’, ‘transparency’ and ‘joint working’, but not everyone would get it yet.

We plan to introduce ‘digital champions’. These champions will whisper ‘digital’ with longing and repressed hope into the ears of their fellow Council workers until everyone joins us on our digital journey. Then we will come together and draw up a strategy. Probably one that pretends we don’t have an inflexible outsourced IT system that randomly deletes emails and refuses to connect to the internet. We will follow in the footsteps of the Government, who are getting so digital they are banning all paper by 2018. Complaints that these plans are cloth-eared, overblown hype are simply a sign of the old analogue culture. In our Move to Digital there can be no slowing down.

In this time of austerity we need digital. The Council budget is being downsized by £54 million as it heads towards losing half of its government grant in just five years. Your gran is losing her elderly community centre where she met up with chums. Instead she will sit at home with occasional 15-minute visits from a stressed-out careworker on a zero-hours contract. The library where you took little Timmy to look through some nice books is being shut down, and the swimming pool will go with it. Instead you will sit in front of the TV and front-crawl through the channels. They cancelled checks on what the local kebab shop did with their leftover cooked meat. Instead you’ll spend all week chucking up.

Our Move to Digital will save these services. Granny will get to Skype her mates about how her care package has been sliced. Little Timmy will order books from an e-Library and swim on a swim simulation app. You will self-diagnose your food poisoning and automatically give the takeaway zero stars on KebabAdvisor. Inefficient human beings will be replaced with technology. In a country where millions are unemployed, everything will be digitised. As common spaces are taken away and services withdrawn, the atoms of humanity will be kept together with digital glue. Everything will be SnapFace and YouGrindr. Our outstretched hands will be dark silhouettes against watchful screens, real humanity always at arm’s length.

If you yearn for a face instead of an automated check-out; if you think that the stuttering smile of a stranger is preferable to a touchtone menu; if you would prefer to speak to the actual person at the Council who could make a difference, you are yesterday. We need to eat bytes and shit bits. We need to make our journey through the screen. We need Digital Everything.

The Council’s ‘Digital’ Strategy is scheduled for publication in June. The document referenced in this article is not scheduled for publication. You can see the Council’s budget proposals at sheffield.gov.uk. In summary, we’re all doomed.

There are loads of groups campaigning against austerity. You can link up with the group of your choice, or as an individual, via the People’s Assembly.

Photo by Rudy Bustamante

The People’s Assembly

Anne O’Laug.