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Smart IT delivers

Exemplar Award Winner- Highly Commended NLPG NSG Exemplar Award ‘Technology Award’ 2010: Northumberland County Council

The efficiencies and savings that derive from using a single source of addressing within a local authority rely on a high quality gazetteer. When Northumberland County Council (NCC) became a new unitary authority it inherited six Local Land and Property Gazetteers of varying quality.

This meant that it could not advance any plans to integrate its new single gazetteer with other systems until it was significantly improved.

The size of the problem, 40,000 unclassified records, many duplicate addresses and poor positional accuracy, led the NCC IT department to build a bespoke software solution. This was made easier by the fact that two of the former councils already shared IT, gazetteer and geographical information system (GIS) expertise, and had successfully integrated their LLPGs with many of their own council service systems. It was this team that led the new council’s LLPG improvement project.

The first step was to bring all the gazetteers, regardless of data quality, up to the national BS7666 standard by working closely with the National NLPG Custodian. Part of this process entailed the writing of simple scripts to unify cross references from the six different gazetteers. NCC then took a single export from the NLPG to form the new unitary gazetteer. Based on the earlier cross reference work, and the realisation that there was no easy way to tackle the problem of unclassified records, the next step was the creation of a new single, software application that would enable any and all of the scripts to be run at the click of a button.

One feature of this application is the ability to pull data from the new unified gazetteer so that they could be viewed selectively on a map in the council’s GIS. Each property classification was given an associated icon, making it easy to spot and select those that were unclassified. By looking at adjacent properties, such as terraced housing, it was possible to write simple scripts to batch classify the unclassified records. The same process was used for positional accuracy, using the map to precisely position individual properties, many of which appeared stacked on top of each other, a throwback to the time when the records were originally created as part of the planning process. Refreshing the GIS in each case updates the records in the gazetteer.

The application can also perform other health checks and analysis of the gazetteer to produce detailed reports to enable the team to correct numerous error types, such as poor cross referencing with the Electoral Roll, Council Tax and Non-Domestic Rates. The application also deals with day-to-day tasks and the process workflow, including the handling of ‘Change Only Updates’ to the NLPG hub.

Outcomes

Progress in improving the NCC gazetteer, thanks to this application, has been swift. In the first year, the 40,000 unclassified records were reduced to zero. Council Tax matching improved from 95% to 99.63% and Non-Domestic Rates matching from 61% to 83%. More importantly, the improved confidence in the gazetteer has led to its roll-out as the single source of addressing for Planning and Building Control. The gazetteer is also used by Environmental Health, Trading Standards and Highways and further departmental integration are planned.

The LLPG is also being used as the basis for the route optimisation and management of the council’s waste and recycling routes. This will shortly be linked to the council’s website so that citizens can type in their address to find out the time and date of their next collection.

Another benefit of populating all the BLPU classifications with meaningful descriptions is that it enabled the council to commission its own ‘Northumberland’ iPhone application. The application uses the phone’s built-in Global Positioning System (GPS), Google Maps and the LLPG’s BLPU classifications to locate anything and everything from a Sure Start Children’s Centre to a Registry Office.

The LLPG system provides all the functionality to maintain and improve the data, carry out health checks, visualise data in a GIS and facilitate the roll-out to other service systems and departments.

Key benefits

  • Facilitated the merger of six gazetteers into one unified gazetteer
  • Huge savings and efficiencies in the dayto-day management of the LLPG
  • Quality of the data in the LLPG is now very good
  • There are savings and efficiencies in departments which no longer have to maintain separate address databases
  • Very little need for site visits either during or after gazetteer unification
  • LLPG underpins free and fully featured iPhone application
  • Has laid the foundation for much wider systems integration

View from the authority

“By creating our own application to deal with the many data integrity errors and varying levels of data quality, including 48,000 unclassified records that we inherited from six former District Councils, we have been able to transform our gazetteer so that it meets the needs of the service departments throughout Northumberland County Council and, ultimately, improve the quality of service provided to our residents. Improving the positional accuracy of each property through integration with our GIS gave us the confidence to commission an iPhone application for citizens which was the icing on the cake.”

-Ryan Gilchrist, LLPG Custodian, Northumberland County Council


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