Only half of UK local authorities are prepared to deal with a cyber-attack

Just hours after the Petya malware variant hit businesses around the world, it emerged that over half (53%) of UK local authorities are prepared to deal with a cyber-attack. Nevertheless, research by PwC shows that Northern Ireland consumers are the second most enthusiastic after London, about the improved efficiency of their local councils.

While the latest PwC Global CEO survey found that 76% of UK CEOs are concerned about cyber threats, only 35% of local authority leaders are confident that their staff are well equipped to deal with cyber threats. Demonstrating how real those threats are, almost all (97%) of UK CEOs surveyed say they are currently addressing cyber breaches affecting business information or critical systems.

PwC’s seventh annual survey, The Local State We’re In, polled the views of over 100 local authority Chief Executives, Finance Directors and elected Council Leaders across the UK and including Northern Ireland. It found that local authorities perceived themselves vulnerable in the face of cyber-attacks, particularly in the wake of the recent ransomware attack on the NHS.

A parallel survey asked 2,000 UK consumers about the performance of their local authority and found that just 34% of respondents trusted their council to manage and share their data and information appropriately, although there was a growing appetite for council services to be available online.

Despite the apparent criticisms of council data management, 22% of people in Northern Ireland said that local authorities here had become more effective over the past five years. After London - where 30% said their council had become more effective - Northern Ireland consumers were the most enthusiastic amongst the 12 UK regions about their council’s improved effectiveness.

Financial uncertainty in the future

The research also surveyed councils’ confidence in their ability to maintain existing levels of local service delivery. While the majority of councils (68%) were confident about maintaining service delivery over the next 12 months, a mere 16% believed they could make necessary cost savings while maintaining existing levels of services over the next five years.

The latest PwC survey highlights growing financial uncertainty across the UK’s local authority network. Half (54%) of the respondents believe some local authorities will get into serious financial difficulty in the next 12 months, with 88% expecting that to happen inside the next five years. Similarly, 49% believe some councils will also fail to deliver essential services in the next year, rising to 83% in the next five years. 


Commenting on the findings of the 2017 The Local State We’re In report, Jonathan House, PwC local government partner said:

“The growing political and economic uncertainty and financial pressure felt by leaders paints a very challenging picture for the future of local authorities.


“The Chancellor’s announcement in the 2017 Budget of an extra £2bn cash boost for social care was welcome. However the reality is that quick fixes will not be a substitute for the long term solutions needed to address the financial pressures faced by local government.


“With council finances under pressure, councils will need to think radically with private sector partners about their future strategy and service models.”


Digital disruption in the sector

When it comes to councils embracing technology, there’s been a notable drop in confidence over the last 12 months. The number of leaders who believe that technology will help them better engage with communities and residents has jumped from 54% in 2016 to 83% in 2017. However, when it comes to delivering on that engagement only, 61% of authorities are confident in their digital approach - down from 76% in 2016.

Most significantly, there has been a change in what councils believe digital can deliver for them - in 2016 80% of respondents felt technology would enable them to reduce costs, however this has fallen to 58% in this year’s survey.

Devolution slips down the agenda

The so-called devolution revolution seems to be stalling; devolution has been a big feature of the survey over the last few years, however just 12% of council leaders now agree they will have more powers and responsibilities by 2020 - a significant fall from 33% in May 2015, who expected to have greater devolved powers by 2020. 

Public perceptions

PwC also surveyed over 2,000 members of the public to discover their views on their council’s performance, role and remit. Overall, there was a concern from the public around cyber threats with only 34% of respondents trusting their council to manage and share their data and information appropriately.

There is, however, public appetite to have more council services available online, particularly from those who already use digital services. Four in ten (44%) say they would like more online services overall, with a clear preference among younger people (56% of 18-34 year olds) compared to older generations (34% of 55+ years).

Public appetite for devolution remains, with only 18% agreeing or strongly agreeing that the current balance of power between central and local government is right and 43% agreeing or strongly agreeing that Ministers should have less power over local services and local government should have more power. However, only 21% of the public polled are confident that local councillors and officials are up to the job of exercising more powers and 29% agree that more directly elected Mayors and so-called city deals should be introduced.


Commenting on the overall findings, Jonathan House said:

“As councils look ahead to the future there will be new risks to manage, from the shift away from the uncertainties of grant funding, to an ever more demanding public. The recent ransomware attacks, and other high profile incidents impacting them show some of these challenges.


“However councils have proved before their resilience and ability to deal with any challenge they are faced with. The survey data suggest that councils have taken cost out of their operations - now the challenge is to manage and grow their capabilities - to utilise technology as a force for growth and to deliver citizens’ expectations of a digital organisation.


As they look to the future, they will need to find new ways to innovate and invest in these drivers of growth and all in the face of continued uncertainty.”



Notes to editors:


Our research covered 106 local authority Chief Executives, Finance Directors and elected Council Leaders across the United Kingdom. These surveys were conducted online during January – March 2017. The range of responses from different types of council and the geographical spread gave us confidence that the results were a broad representation of views from across the sector as a whole.

An online survey of 2,007 UK adults aged 18+ was carried out from 7 to 11 April 2017. The results of the public opinion poll have been weighted to nationally representative criteria.

This is the seventh edition of the Local State We’re In, the first being published in August 2011.

The report notes six key challenges which councils need to respond to:

  • Developing strategies to drive place based growth and securing a clearer economic identity and inclusive approach for their areas;
  • Working across places and securing the right public service reforms to underpin the delivery of key economic and social objectives and outcomes;
  • Focusing on building the right skills, capabilities and processes to secure organisational resilience and managing key organisational risks;
  • Developing commercial skills and business acumen to secure key economic and social interventions and investments and being prepared to work outside council organisational boundaries and seamlessly across the public and private sectors;
  • Embracing the value of data as an asset and investing in an analytics capability to inform decision-making, drive smarter, earlier interventions and to influence behaviours, and as a result reducing risk and cost;
  • Harnessing emergent digital technologies to change traditional ways of working and create new value, experience and insight.

Contact us

John Compton
Corporate Affairs, Northern Ireland and Deputy Head of UK Media Relations
Tel: +44(0)7799 346 925

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