New government grant set to improve council services
Published: 5 November 2019
Council services look set to get better thanks to a new government grant.
Government funding has been awarded to a joint project involving Exeter City Council, that involves working with five other councils to explore a new IT system that would deal more effectively with Council Tax, Business Rates and Benefits administration.
This is the area of local authority work that covers the collection of Council Tax, Business Rates and managing residents’ claims for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has announced that it has awarded £71,000 to the project team from its Local Digital Fund for Discovery Projects.
This means that the syndicate can begin work on exploring the viability of creating a customer focused, configurable and cost-effective modern IT system for processing Revenue and Benefits data.
The other five council members of the consortium are Teignbridge District Council, East Devon District Council, Basildon Council and Brentwood Council in Essex and Sedgemoor District Council in Somerset.
An additional partner in the project is Strata Service Solutions, a company set up to manage IT systems for Exeter City, East Devon and Teignbridge. Strata will be able to bring specialist IT knowledge to the project, whilst Sedgemoor developed their own in-house Revenue and Benefits system 25 years ago and have maintained a high level of performance on processing claims, whilst supporting this system in-house.
In addition to the funding award, the Ministry is also offering the project team training from the Government’s GDS Academy, aimed at improving public sector workers’ digital skills, as well as five places on a digital workshop.
Every district council in the country is required to process benefits claims and administer council tax and business rates, typically using an externally supplied system.
Each Council needs an IT platform to enable their customers’ accounts to be processed in a timely, accurate and efficient manner. But systems currently available are out-dated and new, smarter, slicker systems are not being developed by commercial suppliers.
This is why the six councils have got together to explore a way forward using cutting edge technology and staff expertise. They believe there’s a good chance of creating a value for money system that is not only more efficient but bespoke, putting customers at the very heart of the process and speeding up delivery.
Cllr Emma Morse, Lead Councillor for Supporting People, said: “We’re always seeking to improve our services and find better, more efficient ways of serving our customers. This money will allow us to develop better digital services and ultimately improve the customer experience.”
All six local authorities are seeking to redevelop and transform their frontline services to improve user experience and to digitise processes through the development of customer platforms. These projects include user research and testing, process mapping and iterative development. The project leads and team members all have varying degrees of previous experience in finding digital solutions that involve customer profiling.