Data Standards

Waste service data standards could save £600m over next 7 years

By: Tim Mobbs, The Information Daily
Published: Monday, January 11, 2016 - 11:57 GMT Jump to Comments

On the eve of the publication of Socitm's Better Connected (rubbish and recycling) survey, a pilot project from the Department for Communities and Local Government has demonstrated that digital transformation can revolutionise services whilst drastically reducing public spending.

The Local Waste Service Standards Project's report from the Department for Communities and Local Government on how effective digitisation could be implemented across one service certainly adds to the case that an upheaval will reap huge benefits for service users. It will also greatly benefit councils under increasing pressure to make savings whilst improving services.

While this pilot project is a relatively small example of how digitisation could revolutionise public services, early estimates suggest that as much as £600 million could be saved over the next seven years by improving waste services across all tiers of English local authorities.

Current procedure for waste services is convoluted and costly. The vast majority of service users call the council when their bins have not been collected. A telephone enquiry costs, on average, twenty times more than one resolved online, due in part to the sheer number of individuals that need to be contacted in such a scenario. The member of staff on the phone needs to manually log a report and may not have access to crucial information from the collection team, which tends to be made available late in the day.

This back and forth and lack of access to information is frustrating and inefficient for all involved. If data from the collection team could be logged and made immediately available online during the collection process, service users could quickly establish why their waste wasn’t collected.

Current inconsistencies between local authorities and their waste collection services makes standardisation a challenge. Where a green bin might be used for garden waste in one area, for instance, it could be the colour used for household waste in another. Simple amendments to how bins are classified online - by function as opposed to colour, in this case - are relatively simple to action.

Another major benefit of data standards is the way it will simplify contract renegotiations with suppliers. Councils currently use systems that have much in common but are incompatible with each other. By having data standards in place across all local authorities, the opportunity for councils to support each other and collaborate more effectively increases. This would also significantly reduce the burden of performance reporting, which cannot currently be automated due to inconsistencies between councils.

The use of application programming interfaces (APIs) reduces the need for manual intervention and enables automatic communication between systems which, with the implementation of national data standards, now effectively speak the same language. This standardisation alone could save councils as much as £300,000 every year.

The project presents important questions for local authorities. Could a similar level of digitisation provide a much needed lifeline if it were to be implemented across all services?

Budget cuts over the next five years will be extremely challenging. In order to deliver services to a high standard, digital transformation for our local authorities must no longer be seen as wishful thinking or something consigned to a distant future. The technology and expertise is available - it just needs to be put in place.

The Better Connected survey of local authority websites assessing the online handling of waste and recycling tasks will be published week commencing 18th January 2016

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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