Could better data management help put councils back in the black?

Local authorities needing to boost incomes, reduce debt and drive greater efficiencies could be sitting on an under-utilised asset: Data. An-Chan Phung, CIO for MDM at Civica, shares how it can drive savings and mitigate COVID's impact.

Council debt is an ever-increasing challenge. Back in 2018 it stood at £3 billion after write-offs, with analysis predicting it would rise to £6.5 billion by 2025. This was before COVID-19 struck and further undermined councils' ability to collect taxes. The pandemic 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 £6 billion in debt due to income lost through the pandemic.

So how can data help to put councils back in the black? It's 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's a lot of untapped potential. Here are the top eight areas where local authorities are using better data management to drive savings and efficiencies.

1) Maximising debt recovery while preventing homelessness

Councils like Hull are using 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.

2) Reducing fraud and error

Fraud and error costs local government £2.1 billion 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 £1.3 million through better insight into SPD anomalies alone using MDM.

3) 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 tax payer £17 billion 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 particular 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 recordset 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 £3.9 billion. Harnessing data in service design and targeting these services effectively will be crucial to minimising the shortfall.

4) 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”. MultiVue, Civica’s MDM software, has helped to resolve 95% of customer enquiries at first point of contact, while reducing call handling times by 40% using accurate and available data.

5) Driving digital channel shift and citizen self-stewardship

Councils like Wolverhampton are proving MDM can maximise adoption of self-service platforms by providing an enhanced experience for citizens. Benchmarks show face-to-face interactions cost £14 and telephone £5. As online interactions cost only 17 pence, the opportunity to save money by improving digital services is self-evident. Being able to bring together a single accurate record for each citizen is crucial to a project's success.

Contact records decay on average at a rate of 12% per year. The beauty of a self-service portal underpinned by a single record, is that citizens become their own data stewards. "Tell us once" becomes effortless when sharing changes in circumstances or personal details is automated across departments. This automation can reduce data management costs vs. manual processes drastically.

Managing data centrally and synchronising changes means everyone has access to the most up to date information. The greater the breadth of information a council is confident to share, the more it can increase the digital services it provides. Crucial at a time when COVID is forcing them to limit access to service in person or over the phone. Consistent information across all channels ensures a joined-up citizen experience.

North Lanarkshire Council drove a dramatic uptake of its Citizen Platform by improving data management. It increased the number of citizens who had all five standard data elements (first name, last name, address with postal code, gender and date of birth) from 7,000 to 86,000.

6) 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, CEC are proactively identifying and extending that benefit to those who are entitled but not claiming.

7) Improving service design and targeting

Having managed the first wave of COVID-19, many councils are now in a position to assess its impacts on service delivery. It's time to consider: Which services have we created, which should we continue? Which have we suspended and should we resume them? What services should we look to develop? How do we target services at 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, identifying individuals who are eligible for new entitlements or targeting public health programmes, as just a few examples.

MDM enables local authorities to more accurately analyse their population, forecast demands based on accurate citizen data and target services to the right citizens.

More information

If you feel complete, accurate and shareable data could be key to improving the financial health of your organisation and the welfare of your citizens, we'd be pleased to help you prove its benefit. Start the conversation.