An-Chan Phung 12 March 2021

How better data management can help put councils back in the black

How better data management can help put councils back in the black image

Even before the pandemic hit, council debt was a growing challenge. Back in 2018 it stood at £3bn after write-offs, with analysis predicting it would rise to £6.5bn by 2025.

The pandemic continues to further undermine councils' ability to collect taxes. It has left citizens unable to pay and non-domestic rates declining as businesses struggle. Revenue streams from car parks, theatres, leisure centres and commercial rents are also drying up. Estimates suggest councils could have to service an extra £6bn in debt due to income lost through the pandemic.

So how can data help to put councils back in the black? It is often an under-used asset, not well maintained and siloed in departments. 72% of citizen records held by one department are missing key information that another department holds. Only 0.5% of accessible data is ever analysed or used. That is a lot of untapped potential. To counteract this, here are seven fundamental areas where local authorities are using better data management to drive savings and efficiencies.

Maximising debt recovery while preventing homelessness

Councils like Hull are using Master Data Management (MDM) to get a single view of all debt associated with a citizen or household. MDM enables councils to develop more accurate propensity models, providing better insights to debt management teams and maximising ethical debt recovery.

But it also benefits the citizen. With a complete view of the citizen’s circumstances at point of contact, councils can help avoid future increases in debt and pro-actively engage those who are struggling. Building out payment plans and offering support to "can't pays" ensures sustainable tenancies. It prevents homelessness and avoids increased downstream costs.

Reducing fraud and error

Fraud and error costs local government £2.1bn per year, equating to £71 per household. With a complete view of a household Single Person Discount (SPD), tenancy and Blue Badge anomalies become easier to spot. Councils can be proactive with recoveries and address fraudulent discount requests at point of contact. These same insights also enable councils to extend entitlements to citizens who might not be aware of them. London Borough of Ealing saved £1.3m through better insight into SPD anomalies alone using MDM.

Collaborating on social care provision and interventions

Providing quality social care services represents the biggest expense for most local authorities. With late interventions costing the taxpayer £17bn per year, making timely interventions is a key objective. An "invest to save" approach reduces the cost of delivering reactive services downstream. MDM enables councils to build a longitudinal view of the services they provide to adults, children, and troubled families. It helps them understand the costs and impacts of specific services. This insight means they can start to forecast demands based on patterns and trends. It represents a significant opportunity to drive savings.

As multi-agency approaches to health and social care become more common the importance of data management increases. The rise of Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH), Integrated Care Systems (ICS) and Local Health and Care Record Exemplars (LHCRE) means councils, health, police, and charities need to collaborate. A shared record set is essential to effective collaboration and driving down the long-term costs of service provision. By 2025 experts expect the shortfall in adult social care funding to be as much as £3.9bn. Harnessing data in service design and targeting these services effectively will be crucial to minimising the shortfall.

Increasing queries resolved at first contact

When customer services are empowered to resolve more queries at first contact, it reduces service costs and improves citizen satisfaction. MDM addresses the issue of having records and information for the same citizen spread across disconnected back-office systems. It builds and presents a complete and accurate golden record for a citizen, meaning agents can more confidently identify the correct person and see all the transactional details they need.

Be that rental payments, tax payments or entitlements. Changes can also be synchronised across all systems for “tell us once.”

Addressing avoidable services

A single view of a citizen makes it easier to check entitlement to services. Disconnected records make it challenging to see whether they still need it or are even still living at the associated address. Synchronised data enables councils to identify services that are no longer required and drives significant in-year savings.

Cheshire East Council is using master data management to maximise revenues by validating Single Person Discount entitlement and ensuring citizens claiming it are eligible. At the same time, Cheshire East Council are proactively identifying and extending that benefit to those who are entitled but not claiming.

Improving service design and targeting

Having managed the first wave of COVID-19, many councils are now able to assess its impacts on service delivery. It is time to consider the services that have been created and which should be continued. Which services have been suspended but need to be resumed? What services should be developed? How should target services reach the right citizens?

A complete and accurate view of their citizens, and how their demographics are changing over time, allows councils to target the right services, to the right individuals and at the right time. Be those services on-time interventions programmes for vulnerable families, support for those shielding through COVID-19, identifying individuals who are eligible for new entitlements or targeting public health programmes, as just a few examples.

Handling continued disruption in 2021

Frustratingly, much of COVID-19’s disruption will be continuing this year. The third lockdown we find ourselves in proves there is some way to go in the fight against the pandemic. But local councils can ensure they are providing the best service possible for its citizens by utilising a data management system. MDM enables local authorities to accurately analyse their population, forecast demands based on accurate citizen data and target services to the right citizens.

It is undeniable that councils will face plenty of new challenges in 2021, and they must continue to utilise data to drive savings and efficiencies. Data remains an under-used asset, and if councils harness its vast potential, they may tackle the ever-increasing problem of council debt.

An-Chan Phung is CIO for MDM at Civica

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