How does outsourcing constrain open policy?

In the previous two posts we have asked if there is a tension between two competing Government agendas – open public services and open policy making. In this post we set out fours ways in which the current approach to outsourcing of public services can stifle open policy.

The ongoing saga surrounding the role (or more often, the non-role) of G4S in providing Olympic security has again highlighted that important aspects of outsourced public services – including performance and contract terms – are often hidden from public view behind a wall labeled ‘commercial in confidence’. This has significant implications for open policy, in at least four respects.

Firstly, outsourcing sometimes obscures performance. The Government’s flagship Work Programme is a case in point. This £5 billion programme has been heralded as a radical approach to reducing long-term worklessness. It uses a payment by results approach where providers are paid on achievement of outcomes. Providers have the freedom to decide how they will deliver the service without prescription from government (often called a ‘black box approach’). The problem is that effective transparent scrutiny is difficult because providers are not able to share data about what is working and what isn’t. They are required to sign comprehensive contracts, which prevent them from sharing performance data unless it is already in the public domain. Providers must also not attract ‘adverse publicity’ from their media work or face consequences if they do. Charities and media commentators have questioned this but ministers have refused to change this.

Rather than protect the policy in its relatively early stages, this has only served to intensify the questions as to whether the Work Programme is working effectively. Various charities are pulling out of the programme or going bankrupt, raising concerns about the viability and sustainability of the policy. Data leaked to Channel 4 News indicated that only 3.5% of individuals referred to A4e are securing a job outcome. The way the Department for Work and Pensions has released performance data about the programme has made it difficult to effectively scrutinize the policy overall, a view shared by ERSA – the welfare to work trade body.

Secondly, where public services are not provided by the public sector, this can result in data no longer being available to public policymakers. Francis Maude has argued that data belongs to citizens and not the state, but this hasn’t been reflected in all contracting processes. In a recent Q&A on open government Vicky Sargent from Socitm pointed to cases where council contact centres have been outsourced and the data about enquiries is no longer available to the council because it was not explicitly included in the contract. Vicky rightly argues that retaining the right to data from outsourced systems is critical.

Thirdly, what this reflects is that different providers are treated differently when it comes to transparency. Local Government departments are required to publish all expenditure above £500 as well as salaries of senior officials.  Similar rules apply to Whitehall departments but the same rules don’t apply to outsourced service providers. The Freedom of Information Act also doesn’t apply to private and voluntary sector providers, even though it would if the same services were delivered in-house. This inconsistency in applying transparency rules between services delivered by the state and those by the private/voluntary sector means that we are seeing ‘black holes’ open up in public service commissioning, to the detriment of public accountability.

Fourthly, this situation is likely to undermine the greater use of evidence in policymaking, for example Sir Jeremy Heywood’s desire to see a social policy equivalent of NICE that could issue social policy ‘kitemarks’ for particularly effective and proven approaches. How could such an approach be adopted consistently across public services? Knowing what works and what doesn’t could help the Government in its ambition to increase social investment in areas such as long-term worklessness, but this is unlikely to be realized if we aren’t able to analyse the performance data, costs and timescales across all programmes whoever provides them.

Transparency and scrutiny is not a luxury, rather it is essential if we are to understand whether policy is working and if it isn’t, how it could be improved. We need to understand the impact of public expenditure and whether it represents value for money. We need to make informed decisions, based on evidence, about existing and future policy. Policy will be weaker if a substantial part of the evidence base is hidden behind a veil of supposed ‘commercial confidentiality’. At stake is whether outsourced services are still ‘public’. If public money is being spent in the public interest, then surely how this money is spent should be transparent.

As we suggested in the previous post, the current situation has allowed a further serious problem to develop, of which the G4S fiasco is just one outcome – the emergence of a small, very powerful but somewhat unaccountable group of providers who have significant interest in public policy stemming from their role in delivering a range of public services from prisons, welfare to work, hospitals through to schools. Given their size and scope, independent and transparent analysis of the activity of these providers is essential if we are to scrutinize how this investment is spent and to what effect. Any future social policy equivalent of NICE surely requires a stronger and more secure foundation than this – something we will address in a future post.

We will be looking at each of the issues raised in this post in more depth in future blogs.  Please tell us what you think.


Have outsourcing public service providers become too big to care?

In the previous post, we started to consider whether outsourcing public services is incompatible with open policymaking. In this post, we look at the size of the public services industry and ask whether ‘economies of scale’ also means ‘too big to influence’.

If you’re a critic of outsourcing, G4S has made it easy for you recently. The company’s Olympic security fiasco underlines everything you believe: that superlarge private outsourcing companies like G4S are largely unaccountable, sometimes unreliable, and – given that they profit from providing public services – fundamentally unethical. To its proponents (and sometime apologists), the public services outsourcing industry promotes greater efficiency, effectiveness and innovation, and as the public scrutiny now on G4S illustrates, they are doubly accountable – to society as well as shareholders.

Our focus here is slightly different. Guerilla Policy is a proposal for a radical openness in how public policy is created, in particular that the people who use and provide public services should have a much greater role in proposing, researching, developing, implementing and reviewing the policy that impacts directly on their services and their lives. In an age of social networks and social media, we think this is entirely possible – if the will exists to make it a reality. We’re encouraged that the Government now seems to be thinking the same way. As part of its recent civil service reform plan, it has committed itself to ‘open policymaking’. Government says it believes that policymaking is often drawn from a too narrow range of views and is not designed for implementation. Instead, it wants to improve policy advice by creating opportunities for a wider range of views and expertise to inform its development.

But as we started to suggest in the previous post, in reality the open policy agenda might be marginalised as a result of the Government’s (perhaps stronger) attachment to so-called ‘open public services’ – the challenge to the ‘presumption’ that the state should deliver public services rather than the voluntary or private sector (promoted through various policies such as mutually-owned providers, the expansion of personal budgets beyond social care, the use of payment by results to reduce re-offending, and the Community Right to Challenge enacted through the Localism Act 2011).

Outsourcing has increased significantly in scale since the 1980s, but the bulk of public services are still provided ‘in-house’. The expansion of outsourcing has been uneven, with a much greater amount of external commissioning having taken place in waste services, transport, prisons, welfare to work and ‘back office’ services such as IT, HR and facilities management. In contrast, the penetration of private sector providers into policing, education and probation services has – up until now – been limited. The historical trend however is clear and seemingly unceasing, whichever party is in power.

When it presents its vision for open public services, the Government tends to highlight the smaller charitable providers that have developed progressive, innovative, ‘people-centred’ services and approaches. It doesn’t tend to showcase the likes of Serco, Capita or Ingeus Deloitte. And yet these, more than any other providers, represent the reality of public service outsourcing today. In recent years, charities and voluntary sector organisations have seen a growth in income from contracts and fees from the public sector (to £12.8 billion per year, according to the NCVO), at the same time as grants have stagnated. However, this is still a relatively small proportion of the £82 billion in total spent on outsourcing by the public sector (according to Oxford Economics), and a smaller proportion still of total public sector procurement (of goods and services of all kinds) of £196 billion (all figures 2009/10).  The Economist estimates that this £82 billion figure will increase to £140 billion by 2015.

What has been more dramatic is the growth of a small group of very large providers who have the scale to absorb the costs and risks associated with delivery of many contracts. Welfare to work is a case in point; the Work Programme is a £5 billion programme which is wholly outsourced to a group of large private sector ‘prime contractors’, with only one voluntary sector provider, CDG, delivering as a prime. A4e is a good example of a company that has emerged from nowhere in the 1990s to have an annual turnover of £215 million. The vast majority of its income comes from contracts to deliver welfare to work, skills, advice and probation services.

The increased reliance of government on this small group of increasingly powerful providers is well-illustrated by the G4S fiasco. And if such providers are ‘too big to fail’ – as the need for what is effectively another public sector bailout suggests (this time by police forces and the army) – then what does this suggest for the ability of ordinary people to influence such providers under open policy? If government struggles to hold such providers to account during the delivery (and indeed non-delivery) of contracts, how likely is it that we will be able to influence the way they deliver services, let alone the policies under which they provide them? The critics and proponents of outsourcing might be right to contest issues of transparency, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness when it comes to outsourcing. But as policy insiders themselves, these commentators also ignore the question that the scale of these providers poses for open policy: why should companies the size of G4S – the largest private security company and third largest private sector employer in the world – care what we think?


Is outsourcing public services incompatible with open policymaking?

Rare sighting of a G4S security guard at the Olympics. Copyright: Press Association.

The G4S Olympics fiasco is only the latest example of what is now unavoidable – the conflict between two Government agendas, one for open public services and the other for open policymaking. Which of these two agendas wins out will decide the future of public services, perhaps irreversibly.

Over the past few months on this blog we’ve put forward the argument that policy should be made openly and wherever possible collaboratively with the people who are directly affected by it – in social policy this means the frontline providers of services and the people who use these services. As part of its recent civil service reform plan, the Government has committed itself to ‘open policymaking’, whereby policy “should be developed through the widest possible engagement with external experts and those who will have the task of delivering it.” However significant – and we think it should be supported – in reality the open policy agenda is likely to mean little as a result of another Government programme, that for ‘open public services’.

Open public services is about opening-up the provision of more public services to any ‘qualified provider’. Outsourcing is then a critical part of the open public services agenda. In his speech in July 2011 at the launch of the Open Public Services White Paper, David Cameron set out a commitment to challenge the ‘presumption’ that the state should deliver services rather than the voluntary or private sector. Although outsourcing certainly did not begin under this government, we are now witnessing a massive expansion of the role of the private and voluntary sector across a range of services – from prisons, community health services, hospitals, probation services, policing to schools. According to the Economist contracts worth at least £80 billion are currently outsourced to private providers by national and local government, with this number expected to rise to around £140 billion by 2015.

To its proponents, outsourcing is a way to reduce costs, improve efficiency and increase innovation. Fiascos like G4S’s hiring practices aside, the public debate has not reflected the scale of the change that is currently taking place. More than this, outsourcing is now threatening to undermine the very publicness of public policy.

The current ‘closed-door’ approach to outsourcing, whereby details of the services including its performance and impact are hidden behind the cloak of contractual obligations and commercial sensitivities, undermines the openness of policy in public services. It reduces the ability of the general public to hold policy to account. It erodes transparency, ownership, control, accountability and impacts the responsiveness of services to the users and communities they are meant to serve.

As a consequence, this approach to outsourcing also makes for poor policy. Transparency and openness are critical to ensure that policy is tested and evaluated robustly. Put simply, if policy is not held to account then it does not improve. At Guerilla Policy, we’ve been considering how open policymaking could improve public services. We’ve argued that social policy would be better if it was opened up to wider participation by those who use and provide public services. Scrutiny isn’t sufficient – but even effective scrutiny is now being undermined by outsourcing.

This issue – how our public services are commissioned, by whom and from whom, and how this relates to open policy and public accountability – will be a continuing focus on this blog, alongside our developing manifesto through which we hope to describe an alternative approach. At stake in this conflict between open public services and open policy is whether we continue to have ‘public services’ at all in any genuine sense, in the sense of publicly determined, publicly accountable, publicly responsible – if not necessarily always publicly provided – services for all.

We welcome your views.


Making open policy a reality (part 2)

A couple of weeks ago the Government announced its plans for ‘open policy’. In this post and the previous post we suggest how it can make open policy a reality.

As part of its recently published civil service reform plan, the Government has committed itself to ‘open policymaking’. It has announced a new “presumption in favour of open policy making, with policy developed on the basis of the widest possible engagement with external experts and those who will have the task of delivering the policy”. This post and the previous post set out how Government can make open policy a reality – staring with a few things that Government should avoid doing.

6. Don’t focus only on generating new policy – improve existing policy

One of the problems with the ‘policy industry’ of think tanks, charities, campaigns and commentators is the restless hunt for and promotion of ‘new ideas’ (what David Walker calls ‘neophilia‘). This competition distracts from a more considered approach to improving policy and public services which focuses on how policies and approaches can be steadily improved and refined, better implemented, delivered and administered – in other words, sufficient time to research, think, reflect, plan and review. Openness should enrich existing policy, not serve only to add more ‘noise’.

7. Don’t focus on new technology – use what we’ve already got (used to)

This project, Guerilla Policy, is about how policymaking can be (and needs to be) re-thought for the age of mass participation, social networking and media, and open online collaboration – in particular, how these offer the possibility of getting more frontline voices into policymaking. But just as neophilism often results in costly, unnecessary and untested new policy, so technologism tends to assume that new ways of working always require new technologies. They don’t. Wherever possible, Government should use existing technology and platforms. Don’t fall for the tech hucksters, keep it simple (even if it’s not perfect), and focus on the content instead.

8. Don’t listen to the loudest – openness is about hearing quieter voices

Government has said that the open policy agenda is about widening access to policy to individuals and organisations not normally involved. Fairly or unfairly, a certain type of personality comes to mind when you think about the policy industry. But if open policy really is going to reach out, it needs to include the people and organisations who aren’t always so confident in their own perspicacity but have relevant evidence and insights to contribute. Open policy should carve out spaces for the people we don’t usually hear from – especially those marginalised and vulnerable users and communities who rely on public and voluntary services.

9. Support lots of experiments – and do it openly

Like anything new, parts of the open policy agenda won’t work, and the critics and cynics will do what they do best (sneering). But the best way to discover what works is to invest in a diversity of projects so that we find out and learn. The scale of projects is then important. What will kill open policy is ‘too big to fail’ pilot initiatives. What will allow it to grow and thrive are lots of little experiments – and a commitment to keep testing and keep learning.

10. Stimulate a new ‘market’ – then step back

Government should be congratulated for its public commitment to the open policy agenda, but this doesn’t mean it has deliver it all on its own. In part, this agenda reflects what entrepreneurs and organisations outside of government have already demonstrated is possible – from Change.org and 38 Degrees, Mumsnet to the Spartacus Report. There is already an emerging ‘market’ in open policy, one which Government can play a useful role in helping to legitimize, but not one it has to direct itself. If some or most of the platforms and places where open policy gets done are independent from Government, this will also be an advantage – for the integrity, transparency and credibility of open policy, and also for the specific policies it produces.

To some, the open policy agenda might be a gimmick. But we’re confident that in the (hopefully not-too-distant) future we’ll look back and wonder why the way we currently create policy was ever considered ‘normal’, and why we ever thought it was credible that policy was developed largely behind closed doors, by a relatively narrow group of people, many of whom lack direct practical experience of the issues they were creating policy for. These two posts have been about how we can bring forward this future and make open policy a reality sooner – let us know what you think and what we’ve missed.


Making open policy a reality (part 1)

A couple of weeks ago the Government announced its plans for ‘open policy’. In this post and the following post we suggest how it can make open policy a reality.

As part of its recently published civil service reform plan, the Government has committed itself to promote ‘open policymaking’. This includes:

  • commissioning policy development from outside organisations such as think tanks;
  • crowdsourcing questions to shape the definition of the problem (not just consulting on solutions);
  • using ‘Policy Labs’ to draw in expertise from a range of people and organisations and test new policies before they are implemented;
  • making more data available freely so experts can test and challenge approaches effectively; and
  • using web-based tools, platforms, and new media to widen access to policy debates to individuals and organisations not normally involved.

Most significantly, the plan announced a new “presumption in favour of open policy making, with policy developed on the basis of the widest possible engagement with external experts and those who will have the task of delivering the policy”.

This project, Guerilla Policy, is about how policymaking can be (and needs to be) re-thought for the age of mass participation, social networking and media, and open online collaboration – in particular, how these offer the possibility of getting more frontline voices into policymaking. So we obviously support the open policy agenda, and we think that government, so often characterized as being resistant to new ideas (especially where these ideas are likely to challenge the power of government) should be congratulated for thinking about how to open-up policy and for its bold public commitments to put this into practice.

Despite the widespread cynicism about politics and politicians today, then, we should take the Government at its word and seize this opportunity. This post and the next post are about what Government needs to do to make open policy a reality – and the role the rest of us can play.

1. Make open policy itself open and transparent

Government has set out its ambitions for open policy. Putting this agenda into practice should start with open policy itself, which is to say how the agenda is developed, how opportunities for funding and support are designed, down to how individual projects are selected and commissioned. An open policy agenda designed and determined behind closed doors would not only be ironic – it would be a missed opportunity to develop and extend the current proposals. Government could start with an open forum to discuss and co-design the open policy agenda.

2. Demonstrate how this is different from consultation

It would be tragic if open policy becomes the new consultation, that’s to say distrusted, devalued, and discredited. As stated in the reform paper, an important part of open policy is that those outside government can define problems, not just express their view on proposed solutions. Government needs to signal how open policy marks a fresh start. This doesn’t mean abdicating responsibility for setting policy objectives, just avoiding preempting the answers. One way for Government to do this would be to establish two or three ‘open policy challenges’ – competitions for potential policy solutions for difficult issues – and to see what happens.

3. Crowdsource the evidence on what works for crowdsourcing

‘Policy’ is obviously not one process but a set of related activities. As the US researchers on government innovation William D. Eggers and Rob Hamill recently pointed out, there are at least five roles that crowdsourcing could play in government – competitions, crowd collaboration, voting, labour (‘micro-tasking’), and funding. Government needs to breakdown the various stages of policy – from agenda-setting and development, to implementation and evaluation – and identify what approaches to openness might be most appropriate at each stage. It doesn’t have to start from scratch – it should ask the community of those interested in and supportive of open policy to help gather the research and case studies of what’s already been done, what’s worked and what hasn’t. In the spirit of crowdsourcing, we can help.

4. Make sure that open policy is open to new participants

There’s little point to open policy if it merely becomes a new way to generate policy from the same old suspects. New voices could deliver new (better) ideas, insights and evidence. Government has said it wants open policy to widen access to those people and organisations not normally involved. Two ‘rules’ might help to ensure this. Firstly, make it a requirement of individual projects and proposals under open policy that they engage seriously with typically marginalised people and organisations – especially those who provide or experience services at the frontline. Secondly, support and enable these people and organisations to engage in policy directly themselves – for example, if you want to generate new ideas about how to improve a public service, commission some service users and practitioners to work with you.

5. Deliver an early result

The biggest barrier to open policy – and especially our collective belief in it – will be Government’s preparedness to act on the outcomes. Without a notable ‘win’ – say, a crowdsourced policy passed into law within a couple of years – the armchair cynics will reassure themselves that they were ‘right all along’. The flip side of Government setting out such a bold agenda is that every time it falls significantly short it’ll be called on it. The Spartacus report – one of the inspirations for this project – was born of an angry reaction to a botched and seemingly disingenuous government consultation. Government can do better, and it should.

This is a really important agenda that could be potentially be very radical. The challenge is in how the agenda is developed from now on, and in the spirit of the proposals we believe that this is best done open and collaboratively. In the next post, we put forward five more ways that Government can make open policy a reality. In the meantime, what do you think about the open policy agenda? Do you agree with Government’s ambitions for this agenda – and how would you propose putting it into practice?


Local authorities on Twitter

This is the fifth in a series of posts on local authorities’ use of Twitter. We’ve been counting down local authorities according to the size of their following – this post reviews the results and offers up some thoughts.

As we’ve suggested here before, social media is a cheap and easy way to engage stakeholders, for think tankscentral governmenttrade bodies and directly elected mayors. We even think it could be used to open-up policy research and development, for example for local authorities to connect with their communities. So which councils appear to be using social media, in this case Twitter, the most?

We’ve looked at the corporate Twitter accounts of all 434 UK local authorities – district, county, metropolitan borough and unitary authorities. This shows that 91% of local authorities have a corporate Twitter account. Of these that don’t, Northern Ireland is disproportionally represented, with 15 authorities out of the 39 not having a Twitter account. The 91% figure represents a significant expansion of local authorities’ use of Twitter since 2009 (at that time, a study by LGEO Research showed that only 124 councils were using Twitter, now this has grown to 395 authorities).The total Twitter community around councils is 941,610, whilst local government has tweeted 646,755 times.

The top ten authorities are:

No. Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
1 Glasgow City Council @GlasgowCC 24,016 1,765
2 Edinburgh City Council @Edinburgh_CC 13,054 2,527
3 Newcastle upon Tyne City Council @NewcastleCC 11,992 5,521
4 Belfast City Council @belfastcc 11,639 6,444
5 Manchester City Council @ManCityCouncil 11,313 2,962
6 Cardiff City Council @cardiffcouncil 10,054 4,926
7 Nottingham City Council @MyNottingham 9,374 2,694
8 Leeds City Council @leedscc 9,161 1,838
9 Brighton and Hove City Council @BrightonHoveCC 8,718 7,573
10 Kent County Council @Kent_cc 8,664 2,782

Nine of the top ten councils are large cities, with only one traditional county council represented – Kent. None of the top ten are district authorities, in fact only two appear in the top 50 – Oxford (no.25 – 5,688 followers) and Preston (no.46 – 4,747 followers). Both are large towns with populations of approximately 140,000 to 150,000. No London Boroughs appear in the top 20, although 7 appear in the top 50 with Lambeth (no.21 – 6,434 followers), Lewisham (no.28 – 5,411 followers) and Westminster (no.29 – 5,392) leading the way.

Six local authorities have more than 10,000 followers. Whilst 38 have more than 5,000 followers, representing 10% of councils. 28% of local authorities have less than 1,000 followers. So whilst this expansion has taken place, this is not universal. Our research points to both an urban connection and the use of Twitter and the number of followers.

A slight aside, we also observed the Government’s policy to rationalise back off functions in councils manifest through their social media presence.  Adur and Worthing share a joint Twitter account.  Whilst in Dorset, a number of authorities are sharing a Twitter account @dorsetforyou.

In our previous research on think tanks, we only looked at the number of followers. In this case, we also included the number of tweets sent. We didn’t analyse the quality of tweets, or separate out broadcast tweets from those that engaged in dialogue with local citizens. Nonetheless, we found that 203 local authorities have tweeted more than 1,000 times. Meanwhile, seven authorities with a Twitter account have never sent a tweet. Clearly, resourcing social media efforts matters. Walsall Council for instance has a team of five people who are named as their tweeters on their feed.

Top ten tweeters are:

No. Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
1 Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council @WalsallCouncil 5,214 12,949
2 St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council @sthelenscouncil 3,886 9,514
3 Sunderland City Council @SunderlandUK 8,202 7,835
4 Brighton and Hove City Council @BrightonHoveCC 8,718 7,573
5 Monmouthshire County Council @MonmouthshireCC 4,109 7,044
6 Winchester City Council @WinchesterCity 3,151 6,963
7 Stoke on Trent City Council @SoTCityCouncil 4,603 6,877
8 South Ayrshire Council @southayrshire 3,097 6,628
9 Surrey County Council @SurreyCouncil 4,534 6,585
10 Belfast City Council @belfastcc 11,639 6,444

There also seems to be a connection between activity on Twitter and the number of followers. Of the 106 councils with less than 1,000 followers, only eight have tweeted more than a 1,000 times.

Position on top Twitter list Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
283 Allerdale Borough Council @allerdale 997 3,785
288 Mole Valley District Council @MoleValleyDC 949 1,747
289 Bexley Council @whatsoninbexley 943 1,141
291 Copeland Borough Council @copelandbc 911 1,169
298 East Staffordshire Borough Council @eaststaffsbc 855 1,578
312 Surrey Heath Borough Council @Surreyheath 717 1.572
316 Melton Borough Council @MeltonBC 657 1,127
328 Derbyshire Dales District Council @derbyshiredales 502 1,427

We also found some interesting examples that further point to this connection between activity and presence on Twitter. Fenland District Council who were an early adopter of Twitter appears at no.65 on our list (4,234 followers) compared to neighbouring South Holland, which appears at no.389 (24 followers). South Holland and Fenland have many common similarities. Fenland and South Holland have similar population sizes (91,000 and 76,000), demographic and economic make up. The difference does seem to be connected to their investment in social media. South Holland has never tweeted whilst Fenland has tweeted over 500 times.

North Devon, Mid Devon and Torridge also offer up a further interesting comparison. All are neighbouring rural district authorities with similar population sizes ranging from 65,000 – 91,000. North Devon appears at no. 78 on our list (3,796 followers) compared to Torridge at no.373 and Mid Devon at no.377 both with less than 200 followers. North Devon has however tweeted nearly 5,000 times and has dedicated tweeters compared to 220 and 26 tweets sent by Torridge and Mid Devon.

Fenland and North Devon, both with small rural populations demonstrate the possibilities of increasing reach in a cheap and easy way using social media. Our recent blog on 5 top tips for think tanks using social media has many transferable lessons for local government.  Some lessons from this piece of research for local councils could be:

  • Actively use social media – the more active you are, the more likely you are to build a community;
  • Engage in dialogue, don’t just broadcast;
  • Promote others and not just yourself. A good local council account is a repository of a range of community information and news;
  • Social media is personal – individuals who work for local councils are critical in extending reach and impact;
  • Think without limits: social media offers up endless possibilities.

Of course, only looking at the number of tweets and number of followers on the main local authority feed doesn’t provide a broader analysis of the effective use of social media by any authority. It doesn’t take account of quality of engagement or local population size in particular – and these are factors that we could incorporate into future analysis. Even so, it still provides some indication of local authorities’ take up of social media and offers some interesting insights and lessons. Your views on the results – and what further questions and analysis should be conducted (by us or others) – are welcome.


Local authorities on Twitter – the top 100

This is the fourth in a series of posts on local authorities’ use of Twitter. We’ve been counting down local authorities according to the size of their following – this post reveals the top 100 local authorities on Twitter.

As we’ve suggested here before, social media is a cheap and easy way to engage stakeholders, for think tankscentral governmenttrade bodies and directly elected mayors. We even think it could be used to open-up policy research and development, for example for local authorities to connect with their communities. So which local authorities are seizing the opportunities of social media the most, at least according to this quick bit of research? (Let us know if we’ve got anything wrong and we’ll correct it asap). Congratulations to the top tweeters, and in the next post we’ll review the results and offer some thoughts.

No. Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
1 Glasgow City Council @GlasgowCC 24,016 1,765
2 Edinburgh City Council @Edinburgh_CC 13,054 2,527
3 Newcastle upon Tyne City Council @NewcastleCC 11,992 5,521
4 Belfast City Council @belfastcc 11,639 6,444
5 Manchester City Council @ManCityCouncil 11,313 2,962
6 Cardiff City Council @cardiffcouncil 10,054 4,926
7 Nottingham City Council @MyNottingham 9,374 2,694
8 Leeds City Council @leedscc 9,161 1,838
9 Brighton and Hove City Council @BrightonHoveCC 8,718 7,573
10 Kent County Council @Kent_cc 8,664 2,782
11 Sunderland City Council @SunderlandUK 8,202 7,835
12 Sheffield City Council @SheffCouncil 7,665 5,870
13 Swansea City Council @SwanseaCouncil 7,657 2,750
14 Essex County Council @Essex_CC 7,624 2,481
15 Devon County Council @DevonCC 7,581 3,786
16 South Lanarkshire Council @SouthLanCouncil 7,076 2,471
17 Derbyshire County Council @Derbyshirecc 6,955 2,634
18 Hampshire County Council @hantsconnect 6,892 4,445
19 Fife Council @FifeCouncil 6,522 6,316
20 Norfolk County Council @NorfolkCC 6,484 2,387
21 Lambeth Council @lambeth_council 6,434 1,122
22 Salford City Council @SalfordCouncil 6,399 4,506
23 Birmingham City Council @BCCNewsRoom 6,345 5,747
24 Bristol City Council @BristolCouncil 6,102 1,930
25 Oxford City Council @OxfordCity 5,688 800
26 Nottinghamshire County Council @NottsCC 5,657 3,055
27 Kirklees Council @KirkleesCouncil 5,574 4,502
28 Lewisham Council @LewishamCouncil 5,411 1,967
29 Westminster City Council @CityWestminster 5,392 1,681
30 East Renfrewshire Council @EastRenCouncil 5,372 3,426
31 Cornwall County Council @CornwallCouncil 5,364 2,998
32 North Yorkshire County Council @northyorkscc 5,285 4,164
33 Camden Council @camdentalking 5,227 3,481
34 Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council @WalsallCouncil 5,214 12,949
35 Southampton City Council @SouthamptonCC 5,052 3,770
36 Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council @SolihullCouncil 5,030 4,285
37 Coventry City Council @coventrycc 5,014 1,676
38 Dorset Councils online (some Dorset authorities) @dorsetforyou 5,009 2,220
39 Derby City Council @DerbyCC 4,936 1,288
40 Greenwich Council @Royal_Greenwich 4,907 3,125
41 Renfrewshire Council @RenCouncilNews 4,895 1,898
42 Southwark Council @lb_southwark 4,821 1,695
43 Aberdeenshire Council @Aberdeenshire 4,814 2,832
44 Liverpool City Council @lpoolcouncil 4,801 696
45 Lancashire County Council @LancashireCC 4,790 3,500
46 Preston City Council @prestoncouncil 4,747 2,879
47 Bournemouth Borough Council @bournemouthbc 4,726 3,598
48 Wandsworth Borough Council @wandbc 4,673 2,355
49 Stirling Council @StirlingCouncil 4,671 3,061
50 Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council @RochdaleCouncil 4,613 1,703
51 Cheshire West and Chester Council @Go_CheshireWest 4,611 5,424
52 Stoke on Trent City Council @SoTCityCouncil 4,603 6,877
53 Wakefield City Council @MyWakefield 4,579 3,234
54 Hertfordshire County Council @hertscc 4,575 1,187
55 Surrey County Council @SurreyCouncil 4,534 6,585
56 Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council @TamesideCouncil 4,488 2,861
57 Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council @BoltonCouncil 4,479 1,757
58 Medway Council @medway_council 4,401 3,242
59 Staffordshire County Council @StaffordshireCC 4,358 3,637
60 Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council @StockportMBC 4,338 1,638
61 Hillingdon Council @Hillingdon 4,333 3,117
62 Lincoln City Council @lincolncouncil 4,307 3,512
63 Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council @GMBCouncil 4,284 1,363
64 Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council @sandwellcouncil 4,249 4,177
65 Fenland District Council @FenlandCouncil 4,234 534
66 Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council @WiganCouncil 4,211 5,424
67 Monmouthshire County Council @MonmouthshireCC 4,109 7,044
68 Norwich City Council @NorwichCC 4,065 958
69 Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council @OldhamCouncil 4,046 3,943
70 Warrington Borough Council @WarringtonBC 4,018 851
71 Dundee City Council @DundeeCouncil 4,010 521
72 Shropshire Council @ShropCouncil 3,965 5,133
73 York City Council @CityofYork 3,950 2,393
74 St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council @sthelenscouncil 3,886 9,514
75 Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council @stocktoncouncil 3,844 4,232
76 Durham County Council @DurhamCouncil 3,811 4,904
77 West Sussex County Council @WSCCNews 3,801 3,794
78 North Devon District Council @ndevoncouncil 3,796 4,950
79 Falkirk Council @falkirkcouncil 3,780 709
80 Vale of Glamorgan Council @VOGCouncil 3,774 1,944
81 Bury Metropolitan Borough Council @BuryCouncil 3,697 2,892
82 Blackpool Council @BpoolCouncil 3,544 3,438
83 Aberdeen City Council @AberdeenCC 3,479 3,741
84 Chorley Borough Council @ChorleyCouncil 3,466 2,303
85 Sutton Council @lbsuttonnews 3,447 2,561
86 Bracknell Forest Borough Council @BracknellForest 3,431 5,245
87 Lincolnshire County Council @LincolnshireCC 3,409 1,201
88 Suffolk County Council @suffolkcc 3,390 849
89 Barnet Council @BarnetCouncil 3,389 1,053
90 Gloucestershire County Council @GlosCC 3,333 2,133
91 Telford and the Wrekin Borough Council @TelfordWrekin 3,282 3,643
92 Hackney Council @hackneyliving 3,279 728
93 Croydon Council @yourcroydon 3,267 2,280
93 Northamptonshire County Council @mycountycouncil 3,267 2,162
95 Southend on Sea Borough Council @SouthendBC 3,215 2,359
96 Oxfordshire County Council @OxfordshireCC 3,201 886
97 Argyll and Bute Council @argyllandbute 3,189 1,360
97 Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council @Calderdale 3,189 1,372
99 Winchester City Council @WinchesterCity 3,151 6,963
100 Cumbria County Council @CumbriaCC 3,150 1,578