Agenda item

Digital Work Programme

The Panel will receive a presentation from the Communications Manager on the progress of the Council’s Digital Work Programme.


The Panel was advised that it would receive two updates, the first on the Northgate system, and the second an update on the current situation with regard to the Digital Work Programme.


Northgate System


The Housing and Landlord Services Manager provided the Panel with a presentation on the Northgate System, used by the Housing Team.


·         Prior to the introduction of the Northgate system, the Housing Department had used at least 7 different systems that each stood alone and were not interlinked. The solution was therefore to have one system that served all areas that the Housing Department dealt with, which both officers and customers could use, and which did everything required in a more user-friendly, easy-to-access way.

·         One of the first improvements was a task summary facility for the officers and managers which prioritised the tasks that needed to be dealt with, enabling them to be actioned effectively.

·         With regard to Private Sector Housing, improvements had been made to the customer facing side of the system, relating to applications for HMO licences.  This had previously been a paper- based task, which had been dealt with by officers.  With the new system, all necessary information could be uploaded by the customer in real time, along with supporting documents and payment. The application would then move into a processing queue for officers to deal with.

·         With regard to the Repairs service, improvements had been made by combining the two systems previously used into the one area, which could be updated in real time, and which could also be used by customers. A new pictorial guide to repairs had been created which asked the necessary questions to ascertain the type and severity of the problem. If the job was automatically diagnosed to be an emergency, notification would immediately be sent to the PDA device of the officer on call, to be dealt with as an emergency repair. Ultimately, the customer would be able to book their repair appointment via an online appointment system – work on this stage of the process was still underway.

·         Members were advised that officers were currently halfway through the project timeline.


Members considered the information and the following issues were raised:


·         Members commented that the pictorial side of the system for reporting repairs was very useful, particularly for people with learning difficulties.  However, would residents who did not wish to use the on-line system still be able to access the previous method of reporting via direct contact with an officer?

  • The Housing and Landlord Services Manger confirmed that the system was an enhancement, not a replacement, and that the direct contact system would still remain in place.


·         In terms of the customer experience, how would it be confirmed that any repair work had been undertaken, and that the customer experience had been completed? 

  • With regard to customer satisfaction, the system would generate housing dashboards that would break down jobs by trade, showing the satisfaction achieved for the customer.


·         Could members assist their own residents in completing the information on the Northgate system?

  • Officers responded that family, friends or members could assist tenants in completing the information online, or they could make direct contact with the Council, as before.


·         An amount of £220,000 had been invested in the housing system – how could it be shown that this investment demonstrated value, in terms of increased efficiencies?

  • The Housing and Landlord Services Manager advised that the main advantage of the system was the increased capacity that it could create.  Officers would be able to spend more time on more complicated issues within their areas, and dealing with vulnerable customers. Savings would also be achieved through the closure of older systems, information from which would be incorporated within the new system.


·         Members requested that an analysis of the savings generated by the system, showing whether it had been value for money, could be provided to members in the future.

  • The Housing and Landlord Services Manager confirmed that this could be provided.


·         Members questioned whether the system could be open to misuse as a result of customers entering information themselves – how could all requests being stated as an emergency be avoided?

  • The Housing and Landlord Services Manager responded that a recharge would be applied where it was found that a job that had been booked as an emergency was not of that status.


·         Members questioned how jobs would be allocated to the operatives, taking into account the time left on the job they were currently dealing with and their distance from the new job.

  • The Housing and Landlord Services Manger confirmed that there was a dynamic scheduling tool that worked out the availability of the operatives, and which took into account the distance they would need to travel. The current scheduling software relied on a manual upload once a week by the Logistics Manager who would then allocate jobs in order to accommodate emergencies. The advantages of the new system were that the level of customer service would be improved, as well as the customer experience, as customers would be able to book and track the repairs themselves.


·         Members commented that where a similar system had been used elsewhere, the operatives’ mileage had in fact doubled. Concern was expressed and there was a suggestion that the mileage should be monitored.

  • The Housing and Landlord Services Manager advised that as usage of the new system progressed, a presentation on the scheduling software could be provided to reassure members of its effectiveness.

·         Members responded that it was important to monitor the system to ensure that there were no unintended consequences and unforeseen problems.


·         Members questioned whether all necessary questions were asked of the customer during completion of their repair request on the system.  Was further information required to ascertain if the customer could have prevented the issue?  It was also suggested that as part of the online reporting process, customers should be informed of their responsibility to adhere to the appointment, and if it was found that incorrect information had been provided, a recharge would be issued.

  • The Housing and Landlord Services Manager responded that questions were already asked, which ascertained if the problem was the responsibility of the customer, and if so, that no further action would be taken. If the repairs were to be dealt with by the operatives, the system would ensure that they were dealt with quickly and efficiently, but if the repair was due to tenant damage or wilful damage, the system would make it clear that a recharge would be applied.


·         Members questioned if the analytics produced by the system could highlight whether particular issues were being regularly reported which could potentially indicate a District-wide problem. 

  • The Housing and Landlord Services Manager advised that in terms of repairs, two property systems were being brought together under the new system, and that in relation to analytics, if a particular component was not reaching the end of its suggested life or was requiring a greater number of routine repairs than expected, it would be highlighted to assist with future decisions around purchases and investments.  He also stated that parameters could be set for the analytics dashboards, around areas for consideration relating to customer satisfaction, expected component life cycles and when components were due for replacement. It would also be possible to share information with the customer via the Tenants Portal.


·         Members asked whether it would be possible for them to use the system under a test environment in order that they could answer residents’ questions regarding it more effectively.

  • Officers confirmed that a demonstration of the system could be provided to members.


·         Members asked if a report could be provided giving further information on progress of the system, and detailing performance as a result of having the system installed.

  • The Housing and Landlord Services Manger advised that this would be possible.  He explained that there were some improvements to the system that would be going live during the summer, and that September would therefore be an appropriate time for an update.


Members thanked the Housing and Landlord Services Manager for his update, and his clarity around answering the questions.


Digital Work Programme


The Programme Delivery Manager provided the Panel with a presentation concerning challenges and opportunities, next steps, and a financial update on the Digital Work Programme. 


·         The impact of Covid 19 had created different financial pressures for the Council, changing attitudes and behaviours, changing relationships and numerous other challenges. The opportunity had been taken to redefine the short-term digital strategy, to re-focus resources, to adapt to meet residents’ needs, to develop existing channels, and to seek new partnership working.

·         The Digital Team were holding daily meetings with the Communications and Digital teams. There had also been regular meetings with the Digital teams at SHDC and PSPS, creating a more collaborative relationship.

·         There would be one single plan of action, that would be deliverable and would demonstrate efficiency savings.

·         Between April 2020 and March 2021, economic development had been supported with the production of a multiple business grants online application service. Support had been given to ensure the Local Restriction Support grant scheme web content had been kept up to date.  Web content for the different business grants had been made available to the public. 

·         Work had been undertaken with the Communications team to provide web activity analytics to support SHDC’s social media platforms. An online contact function had been created and introduced for the Economic Development Team. In collaboration with PSPS and SHDC’s Economic Development team the new Grants4Growth website had been crafted and delivered.

·         An online application for e-permit for Castle Parking had been created and introduced.

·         The “Tenants Self-Service” area of the website had been reviewed and delivered, including a full re-write of the content.

·         Following a website accessibility score of 60% in July 2020, work had been undertaken to improve the website and the score in March 2021 had improved to 86%.

·         In summary the work undertaken had concentrated on the crossover between web and social engagement, and trends in user needs, scoping a “book and pay” solution for SHDC, managing and maintaining the web content around Covid-19, and the project management of the introduction of Microsoft Teams.

·         The introduction and development of an online booking service for market traders during the free-rent pitch period (phase one) had also been implemented and this was continued to phase two, which offered a full “book and pay” service for market pitch booking.

·         An online form had been created and launched for Custom and Self-Build registration.

·         Moving forward the work schedule allowed for the continuation of the project management of Northgate Housing and the Tascomi system, used by the Licensing team.


·         Members were also provided with a financial update.  The original funding for the Digital Team had been £331,613. The current projection was that there would be an under spend of approximately £19,000. However, further funds could be forthcoming from Central Government due to the Covid pandemic, and officers suggested that a further report be given at a later date, taking this into account.


Members considered the information, and the following issues were raised:


·         Members asked who was undertaking all the work that had been outlined.

  • The Programme Delivery Manager advised that she was undertaking this work, along with the Digital Project Manager, and an SHDC Web Content Manager.  In addition, there was also a PSPS/SHDC resource of 37 hours per week allocated to the programme.


·         Members commented that the Panel had, for some time, been requesting a clear report on the financial situation, and questioned if the expenditure of £220,000 mentioned by the Housing and Landlord Services Manager was included within the £331,000 funding figure.

  • The Programme Delivery Manager advised that the figure of £220,000 was in addition to the £331,000, as the Northgate system was a separate business case.


·         A number of points were raised with regard to the continued relevance of the existing programme:

  • Members stated that a report was needed as soon as possible, clarifying the position relating to the overall programme, and whether that programme was still relevant in light of the changing landscape.
  • Members questioned the fact that the original proposal had included references to Breckland Council, and that as that partnership was now ending, this needed to be reviewed.
  • The Council’s Budget stated that an amount of £627,000 from years 2020 to 2023/24 had been budgeted to be spent on IT and Digital-related projects (including the Northgate system) and that a further £84k had been budgeted for items such as Office 365 – these figures were significant and a report was required to see if that money was being spent effectively.
  • Members stated that the Authority needed to revisit the original programme, and questioned how the Performance Monitoring Panel could assist with this – how could the Authority deliver what was required, in a cost-effective way?
  • The involvement of PSPS had previously been questioned, but their experience was considered a resource that could be used – was it time for the Authority to reconsider how it delivered the project?
    • The Place Manager advised that a new IT Board had been created, which included officers from SHDC and PSPS.  The Board would be considering all the items that had been added into the shared plans, to ensure that they were still fit for purpose.  The experts in PSPS were fundamental to the IT Board and ongoing discussions.

·         Members responded by requesting a report be produced, dealing with all the aspects discussed at this meeting, and that could demonstrate that a robust plan was in place moving forward.

  • The Place Manager asked for time to liaise with Democratic Services and the officers involved to produce a report.

·         The Chairman suggested that a special meeting be arranged to provide sufficient time to consider the content of the report.




a)    That the presentations be noted;


b)    That the following be provided, with regard to the Northgate system:


              i.        An analysis of the savings generated by the system, showing whether it had been value for money;

             ii.        A presentation on the scheduling software, as usage of the system progressed;

            iii.        A demonstration to members of the Northgate software, in order that they could familiarise themselves with the system and thus assist the public, if required; and

           iv.        An update report, giving further information on progress of the system, and detailing performance as a result of having the system installed, for consideration at the meeting on 8 September 2021.


c)    That, with regard to the Digital Work Programme, a special meeting of the Performance Monitoring Panel be arranged, and a report produced to consider the following issues raised by the Panel:


              i.        Clarification of the position relating to the overall programme, and whether it was still relevant in light of the changing landscape;

             ii.        A review of the programme in light of the ending of the partnership with Breckland Council;

            iii.        Whether the money allocated to the programme was being spent effectively;

           iv.        A review of the original programme, and how it was delivered; and how the Authority could deliver what was required in a cost-effective way.