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Towards the ‘fully digital council’ – outsourcing for digital change

Source: PSE Feb/Mar 16

Helen Seechurn, director of resources at Burnley Council, and Charlie Bruin, CEO at Liberata UK, explain how a 10-year outsourcing contract will deliver transformational change to the local authority’s services.

District councils continue to face massive austerity challenges. Burnley Council is no exception; it has faced unprecedented reductions in budgets since 2010. 

The Labour-controlled council recognised that reducing its workforce would no longer allow it to meet its financial challenges while still being able to deliver the necessary transformational change. This led the council to embark on the search for a strategic partner with a proven track record in delivering innovative transformational services to local government. 

Preparing for partnership 

The decision to outsource services wasn’t taken lightly, but change was needed. Prior to the contract going out to tender, an ambitious change programme was developed in stages, with key stakeholders being involved throughout the process. 

Work began early in engaging with three key groups: councillors; the public consisting of taxpayers and service users; and the workforce, through direct briefings and regular detailed liaison with the trade union. To engage hearts and minds, a series of workshops and events were held for those wishing to understand what a strategic partnership would mean to them. 

The most popular and best-attended sessions were those delivered by council workers who had worked in either the private sector or within a public-private partnership, who could honestly share their thoughts and experiences.

Throughout, Burnley Council emphasised that it would remain responsible for all services, whether delivered directly or by a contracted partner on the council’s behalf. Residents would continue to receive all the services being transferred, which would still be delivered by people with local knowledge.  

The council viewed the strategic partnership as central to its future service delivery plans, so the successful strategic partner would be required to deliver against five key objectives: 

  • A minimum saving of 15% annually over the life of the contract
  • Maintain and enhance service standards
  • Offer innovation and new technology through improved business processing
  • Protect terms and conditions of the transferred workforce
  • Opportunities for growth in the borough 

From 1 January 2016, Prosper Together, a new 10-year partnership between Burnley and Liberata, started to deliver a broad range of transformational services and will become an integral part of the delivery of operational services.

The partnership represents one-third of the council’s service offering, encompassing those traditionally offered by commercial partners, such as revenue and benefits services, as well as those that are relatively new to the marketplace, such as environmental health and licensing. 

Liberata workers at Contact Burnley

Enabling a fully digital council 

Liberata will deliver a sustainable and long-term transformation to Burnley Council. The key to this will be helping Burnley move away from offering traditional, reactive local government service delivery to become a provider of proactive, fully digital services. 

Digital channels offer an efficient way for residents to interact with the council. Furthermore, the time and money saved through enabling citizen self-service means the council can invest further in supporting vulnerable adults getting access to the vital frontline services they need. 

Over the last five to six years, there has been a lot of talk across local government about the ‘digital first’ or ‘digital by default’ agenda, as a means to reduce expenditure and improve the delivery of public services. 

However, if the notion of a ‘fully digital council’ is to become a reality, getting buy-in from citizens is vital. A key part of Burnley Council’s digital transformation will be encouraging people to do more of their business with the local authority online, while recognising that for some, access is more difficult and alternatives need to be found. Indeed, Liberata has committed to a guaranteed channel migration of 45% in three years and 65% in five years, at no risk to the council. 

Part of this will be the wider promotion of the council’s online channels to local citizens through regular correspondence, and training staff to provide the necessary digital support to those who need it. But, most importantly, it is about demonstrating the real value of moving services online for both the council and for citizens. 

True digital transformation is much more than simply moving a paper process online; it is about being able to see and manage data more intelligently throughout the process, using a combination of automation techniques and technologies to enable staff to make decisions more quickly. For local government, the results can be dramatic. Take benefits claims, for example. It can still take 20 days to manually process new claims, but by moving the process online a claim could be approved in as little as one to two days, shifting the customer experience closer to what we now expect from a bank processing a mortgage application. 

A significant part of Burnley’s journey towards becoming a fully digital council will be ensuring that there is a standard entry point for both citizens and staff when going online, as this will reduce complexity and simplify workflow. Ultimately, by moving more services online, Burnley will be able to reduce the cost to serve each citizen by 35-45% while at the same time raising customer satisfaction levels – a win-win for both the council and its citizens. 

Becoming digitally smart 

The use of data and automation as part of its digital strategy will also enable the local authority to make smarter service decisions across a number of functions. For instance, Liberata will be helping Burnley Council make more effective use of joined-up data, drawn from both public sector records and third parties such as credit reference agencies. This will help the council to accurately identify fraud and error in claims for council tax reduction or housing benefit, where there is evidence of a miss-match with eligibility criteria.

Through richer data analysis, the council will then be able to more accurately assess the potential extent of fraud and error within its existing case load, creating business rules to target cases where there is a high risk of overpayment (or indeed underpayment) enabling it to produce better outcomes. At the same time, this removes the burdensome workload of processing every case and unnecessarily contacting citizens when there is no need to because automatic checks show that records and claims remain consistent. 

Such change won’t happen overnight, but Liberata will be investing £3.1m over the course of the contract to help deliver the technological and business process changes required to enable Burnley to become a fully digital council. At a time when local councils are being asked to do more with less, the Prosper Together partnership provides opportunities to deliver the transformational change to services that Burnley Council desires at a lower cost than would have been the case if services had remained in-house. 

Furthermore, it means the council is providing the opportunity to other authorities looking to make future savings themselves, through ‘northshoring’ and taking up the capacity that is being built in this Lancashire town’s new public services hub. 

Councils all over the country are facing difficult financial challenges. Prosper Together shows that partnerships can be established to bring in new investment in technology, resulting in economies of scale which would not otherwise be achievable.

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