Councils have saved £230m by using the latest technology to better manage services, according to a report from the Local Government Association.
Town halls are using mobile, web-mapping and satellite technology to make refuse collection more efficient, tell people at bus stops where the next bus is and when it will arrive, and keep them informed about roadworks and planning applications.
Recent innovations also include iPhone applications that allow citizens to point their phone at a pub, restaurant or take-away and receive its hygiene rating.
There are also apps that enable citizens to send photographs of fly-tipping and vandalism, enabling councils to deal with it quickly.
Councillor David Parsons, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Improvement Board, said in the report: “Whether it’s bin men working more efficiently, fewer phone calls to inquiry centres or reducing parking ticket machine maintenance costs, making the most of modern technology and data sharing has resulted in huge cash savings across the country.
“It is estimated such technology and information sharing could potentially save councils up to £372m by 2014/15,” he said.
Examples of applications cited by the LGA as delivering cost savings and softer benefits include:
• A free iPod app from Derbyshire Dales, Telford and Wrekin and Huntingdonshire District and Merton councils that checks an eatery’s food hygiene rating, from zero to five stars, as ruled by council environmental health officers.
• Gloucestershire County Council released an iPhone app last year that allows car owners to chose when and where they want to park and to pay for a ticket remotely. The new, solar-powered pay machines also alert staff if there’s a fault, reducing maintenance costs.
• Lancashire County Council launched an app for people to send it photographs of bus shelter vandalism, while Lewisham Council has a similar program relating to fly-tipping that runs on iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Android.
• Bus users in Blackburn can now receive up-to-the minute information on the whereabouts of buses following the launch of a pilot project by Blackburn with Darwen Council. The system, which runs on solar power and utilises satellite technology, gives out real time information, on screen and audio, on a specific service at various bus stops.
• South Tyneside Council used location-based information to create the 'My South Tyneside' web page. It includes a property search facility for finding schools, libraries and other local facilities, and an email alert about local news, community events, how residents can get involved and changes like planning applications and road works.
• Daventry District Council used location-based technology to improve refuse collection routes through better planning. This resulted in £223,000 savings from reduced mileage, less overtime, smaller vehicles and fewer rounds.
• Nottingham City Council, working with the local NHS, police, districts and the county council has created an online Local Information System providing access to comprehensive, up-to-date information related to local neighbourhoods, which staff both inside and outside the participating organisations can use to quickly find information they require. The council estimates that it saves up to £460,000 a year.