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Improved service delivery through avoidable contact

NLPG Exemplar Award Winner – Best business process transformation 2008: South Tyneside Council.

Making the most of council held information to transform service delivery has been central to South Tyneside Council since 2004 and this is clearly demonstrated through the continued evolution of its website. The Varney report on ‘Service Transformation’ recommended that 50% of activity should be moved from the phone to the web. This is borne out by the latest published figures for typical transaction costs showing £0.17p for a web transaction, £4.00 for a phone transaction and £7.81 for a face-toface transaction (Source: North West e-Government Group (NWEGG)). The NI 14 ‘Avoidable Contact’ indicator, a key part of wider programmes to improve services to customers and reduce costs, has proved controversial. However, SOCITM says that all enquiries coming into a council through non-web channels for information and transactions that are available on the web, should be regarded as ‘avoidable contacts’. For this reason one of the council’s main objectives focuses on improving the provision of citizen focused information and transactional opportunities through automation, improved access and a personalised alert service available from its website, all enabled by the LLPG. Maps are very helpful in locating everything from a doctor’s surgery to a recycling point. Web mapping was implemented in a simple way in 2004 to start the process of meeting the then ODPM priority outcomes for 2005. This was then developed to give visitors to the site simple location maps for finding schools, libraries and other local facilities.

In 2005 South Tyneside looked to meet the Pendleton criteria for planning and it’s now a simple process to locate the status of planning applications in the vicinity of one’s home.

In 2006 the site was refined considerably. The main feature, accessible from the home page is now called ‘My South Tyneside’. It is quick and easy to use; a person visiting the site simply types in their postcode and then chooses their property from the resulting list, all sourced from the LLPG. In 2007/8 the Council added a ‘My Nearest’ search facility and an email alert service which enables citizens to receive regular email alerts which let them know about; local events; new or changed planning applications; new road works and a host of other council service information. This is being added to all the time.

Outcomes

This project has truly joined up services for delivery internally through desktop systems and to members of the public via the website with services such as hourly planning applications; Unitary Development Plan and Local Development Framework; daily road works; NLPG access for address verification and feedback; facilities gazetteer (GIS overlays derived via the LLPG), council tax; news and events with more systems coming online in the future. The web mapping strategy is closely linked to encouraging the use of e-services. The ongoing development of the website, particularly the web mapping application and the service improvements that have resulted, have been achieved within existing departmental budgets. Many of the council’s service delivery objectives have been met with no additional spend.

The web stats for the council site are impressive and the email alerts service now has over 500 subscribers. In the first eight months of 2008 there were 11,317 unique visits to South Tyneside’s online mapping facility. Using the NWEGG’s estimated costs for web transactions as opposed to phone transactions this would represent an estimated saving of £43,345 alone. These savings have been realised in areas such as planning, where customers are now able to self-serve rather than use valuable planning officer time.

At South Tyneside, the focus has been to improve frontline services both through the service centre but also through the website, the lowest cost route. The website is a good example of data sharing with information pulled from all the council’s major systems linked by the UPRN to provide citizen focused results. Personalising the data facilitates and encourages online transactional activity.

Key benefits

  • Substantial savings and efficiencies have been achieved through NI 14 ‘Avoidable Contact’ by encouraging citizens to take the low cost route.
  • Improved service delivery at lower cost achieved within existing budgets.
  • Information is integrated with an online self service facility.
  • Automated personalised email alert system keeps citizens informed.
  • Used internally in the call centre as well.
  • Meets a number of Government ‘Priority Outcomes’.
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