Future Councils pilot application guidance

Applications for the pilot of Future Councils are now closed.


1. Future Councils will support local authorities across England to become modern and resilient. The pilot will fund councils to make digital and cyber improvements across their organisations, reform key services, and influence organisation-wide factors that can unblock change. Beyond the pilot phase, we will partner with a group of councils to deliver replicable pathways to digital and cyber security reform that others can follow.

2. We will be piloting this approach with a small cohort of councils to test and iterate our approach. Each partner council will receive up to £750k to work with us over six months.

3. Funding will be transferred to the lead applicant organisation via Section 31 of the Local Government Act 2003.



4. Following the launch of the Local Digital Declaration in 2018, there has been a significant shift in local government digital services towards more modern, user-friendly, cost effective services, which are based on flexible, secure technology, and can be reused across the sector. However, we have also seen the growing risk and scale of cyber attacks, with incidents across the country showing no council is immune from risk. In a challenging context for the sector, there’s a high incentive for a step change in local government efficiency and productivity. Digital transformation has the potential to save money, improve service quality and enhance security.

5. Four years on from the launch of the Declaration and we have learned as a sector what needs to change to rise to these challenges. We are proud of the improved outcomes Local Digital has delivered over the last four years in collaboration with councils. But we have also learned that improvements to one service do not necessarily drive broader transformation across a council and will not be enough to meet the necessary pace of change. Councils have told us of the importance of taking a broader approach that removes the barriers to change, if they are to meet the principles of the Declaration. 

6. The Local Digital programme has worked through the Local Digital Fund to address common local service challenges through reusable digital tools and methodologies, and through the Cyber Support Fund, to provide funding and expertise to help local authorities address cyber security vulnerabilities. To complement this work, we are now launching a new programme – Future Councils.

7. Through our work, and through talking to councils across England, we have found there are three common challenges which councils are struggling to address:

  • How to make digital and cyber improvements across the whole organisation, rather than just one team or area
  • How to reform services including the big, critical services, which are riskier and harder to change
  • How to influence the organisation-wide factors – such as internal processes, leadership and governance – that can unblock change

8. Through the pilot of Future Councils, we will support local authorities to make these changes across their organisation, and understand what further support they need to do this.

9. Councils that are part of Future Councils will be expected to share learning openly. Any replicable pathways and reusable artefacts will be made freely available to enable other councils in the sector to apply in their own setting.


Eligibility and assessment criteria

10. To be eligible, applicants must be:

  • a local authority in England and able to receive Section 31 grant payments. See the Annex for a definition of local authority
  • a Local Digital Declaration signatory or become a signatory before the application deadline
  • supported by their Chief Executive in applying

11. Applications will be assessed against:

  • Strategic fit with the Future Councils pilot
  • Organisational support for being part of the pilot
  • Ability to deliver

Further information on eligibility and assessment criteria is available in the Annex.


Timescales and application process

12. The given timescales may be subject to change on short notice.

Applications open Tuesday 25 October 2022
Future Councils Slack Q&AWednesday 2 November 2022, 11:00am
Applications close Friday 18 November 2022 at 5:30pm
Panel interview (as needed)Wednesday 7 December and Thursday 8 December 2022
Selected councils announcedEarly 2023

13. A template version of the application form will be made available to councils via the Local Digital website.

14. All applications must be submitted using the online application form by 5:30pm on 18 November 2022. No concessions will be made for incomplete or late applications.

15. Shortlisted applicants may be invited to an interview on 7 or 8 December 2022 to ensure that they are a good fit for the pilot phase. We would expect the day-to-day lead for Future Councils and senior stakeholder, and where possible your Chief Executive, to attend this interview. If you are not selected to be a partner council in the pilot, you will still be able to apply to join later Future Councils cohorts. All invitations to interview will be sent by Friday 2 December.


DLUHC support

16. We will work closely with partner councils throughout the pilot to support them to deliver projects, share learnings across the cohort and to understand what works and what needs to change in our offer of support. Partner councils will be able to draw on specialist support to deliver the work within the pilot. This could include providing additional team members to deliver pilot work, giving access to training, and providing mentoring and/or peer support. We will work with partner councils to agree what support and expertise is needed.

17. Councils will receive up to £750k for the initial six month pilot period to fund a range of improvement projects. We are open to exploring options to enable this such as funding backfill arrangements.

18. We will have conversations with partner councils towards the end of the pilot period to reflect on progress to date and discuss further involvement in Future Councils.


Expectations of partner councils

19. As part of the Future Councils programme, we want to support improvement projects across these five themes:

  • Cyber security
  • Staff skills
  • Systems and software
  • User experience of digital services
  • Back-end processes for council staff

20. We expect councils to deliver a range of cyber and digital projects across their organisation. All partner councils will:

  • Baseline current digital and cyber maturity, and agree a plan with DLUHC to make and evidence improvements
  • Start work towards adopting and meeting the Cyber Assessment Framework for Local Government
  • Identify at least one key service area to transform through migrating away from legacy technology (partner councils can choose which service to focus on)
  • Identify the most significant organisational and cultural barriers to reform and create a plan to fix those 
  • Take part in training and/or mentoring for a range of council staff

We will also work with pilot councils to:

  • Create and exercise a cyber incident response plan
  • Adopt relevant Local Digital Fund projects
  • Improve cyber and digital skills across the organisation
  • Identify legacy technology that needs to be moved to a safer environment

21. We expect all councils to be open to testing different ways to improve and influence the organisation-wide factors that can unblock change. This could include changing how procurement of digital services works, mentoring for senior leaders to increase digital and cyber capabilities across the council, or reviewing and improving governance structures.

22. We expect all partner councils to work openly and collaboratively. This includes working in partnership with DLUHC to help us develop our offer for the Future Councils programme, openly supporting and sharing learning with other councils.


Further information

23. Information on Future Councils will be published and updated on the Local Digital website. We encourage councils to use the #dluhc-future-councils Slack channel in the LocalGovDigital workspace to ask pilot-related questions. Alternatively, you can email futurecouncils@localdigital.gov.uk.

24. Local authorities wishing to sign the Local Digital Declaration can do this on the Local Digital website.


Annex: Eligibility and assessment criteria

The criteria below will be used to determine whether applications are eligible for the Future Councils pilot. Eligible applications will be assessed in line with assessment criteria below. 

Once applications have been assessed and moderated, before funding decisions are made, we may exercise discretion to:

  • ensure a fair spread of projects across England
  • ensure that we have a variety of different types and size of council

Eligibility criteria

All applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:

1.The applicant must be a local authority in England and able to receive Section 31 grant payments. The following bodies are defined as a local authority for the purposes of this pilot:
a) a county council
b) a district council
c) a unitary authority
d) a metropolitan district
e) a London borough
f) City of London
g) the Council of the Isles of Scilly
h) a combined authority
2.The applicant must be a Local Digital Declaration signatory or become a signatory before the application deadline. The current signatory list and declaration sign up form can be accessed via the Local Digital website.
3.The applicant must be supported by their Chief Executive to apply as part of the pilot.

All applicants are also required to:

  • Provide a day-to-day lead from your organisation for Future Councils, who will be the main contact from your organisation for your application and work on the Future Councils pilot
  • Provide a dedicated senior stakeholder from your council, possibly the Chief Executive or a member of the Senior Leadership Team. This will be the person who is committed to supporting and overseeing your involvement in Future Councils if your application is successful. If this is not the Chief Executive, your Chief Executive must also support your application

Assessment criteria

Applications will be assessed against the assessment criteria. The application form includes some prompts to help meet the criteria below.

Strategic fit. 1. The council is currently looking to deliver digital and cyber security transformation and committed to working across these five themes:

a. Cyber security
b. Staff skills
c. Systems and software
d. User experience of digital services
e. Back-end processes for council staff

We will ask you about relevant projects and change activities that are currently being delivered in your organisation.

We want an idea of:

a. the scale of work being undertaken within the council
b. the level of commitment to investing in this transformation activity
c. examples of the activity so we can assess if this aligns with the five themes
d. the outcomes the council is hoping for from current activity. We will be assessing how well the Future Councils programme will fit alongside and complement existing change activity

(Scoring out of 5)

2. The council is committed to investing in organisational change despite potential challenges

We will ask about your organisation's strengths and challenges when trying to make digital and cyber security improvements, as well as how Future Councils can support your organisation.

We are looking for:

a. an ability to be self aware of strengths and weaknesses of current approach
b. an understanding of gaps, potential change enablers and future opportunities
c. a willingness to invest time and effort into Future Councils

(Scoring out of 5)
Organisational supportInfluential people across the council desire to be part of Future Councils and are open to trying new things across the organisation.

We will ask you what you have done to engage with and seek support from your wider organisation for being part of the Future Councils pilot.

We are looking for demonstrable support from your wider organisation, in particular from senior level stakeholders.

(Scoring out of 5)
Ability to deliverThe council has resources and roles that could be dedicated to this work and are likely to take ownership of it.

We will ask you to tell us which staff members from your organisation you can commit to being part of your Future Councils team and when they would be available.

We are looking for evidence of willingness to embed skills into the organisation and an openness to different ways of achieving this.

(Scoring out of 5)