Transforming revenue services to achieve self sufficiency is the aim of Mark Underwood, Head of Exchequer Services and the team at Bexley Council.

Since 2010, Bexley's core government funding has decreased by around 40%. The government's latest financial settlement for Bexley was even more challenging than expected, and we face the complete withdrawal of our government grant by 2020. The significant challenge of this reduction in our funding since 2010 has meant that the council has already made great strides towards overhauling its revenue services. By 2020, we now know we will need to be self-sufficient, and so we need to deliver a second phase of transformation that allows us to find further efficiencies. As we move towards the second phase of this transformation process, it's worth reviewing the achievements we have already secured to help drive efficiency and increase revenue, while keeping our citizens' needs at the forefront of services.

"We have introduced online revenue accounts, e-forms, e-billing, text messaging and a staff performance monitoring system. The use of text messaging has been extended to cover reminder, and more recently, pre-summons and pre-enforcement stages”

Mark Underwood, Head of Exchequer, Services at the London Borough of Bexley

Given the prime importance of finding new sources of income and minimising our outgoings in order to balance the books, council tax and business rates have a critical role to play in helping Bexley build a sustainable and vibrant future. This involves not only a relentless focus on maximising income from existing sources but also automating and improving income collection processes; reviewing the schedule of fees and charges; identifying new markets such as digital advertising and data; and generating income from waste collection. Partnership working has been instrumental in our approach to channel shift. Working in partnership with Capita, more than £6.5 million has been invested in the development of new technology to bring our council tax collection services more in line with what our citizens expect and need from their local authority. We have introduced online revenue accounts, e-forms, e-billing, text messaging and a staff performance monitoring system.

The use of text messaging has been extended to cover reminder, and more recently, pre-summons and pre-enforcement stages. More applications are now available online, allowing residents to set up direct debits, sign up and manage their account to receive e-bills, report changes of address, apply for refunds, make payment arrangements and apply for discounts and exemptions. As a result, nearly 75% of all new direct debit sign-ups are now made online - up from 65% in April 2014 – and the number of residents choosing e-billing has doubled since last year.

In 2015/16, there were more than 28,000 logins by Bexley residents to self-service, compared to 18,000 the previous year, showing that online access is becoming the first choice for most residents. As part of our transformation programme, a project is underway to redesign the entire council website and improve ease of access for residents. We have also reviewed all the bills and notices sent by council tax this year and applied nudge techniques to increase our direct debit payments, reduce contact and improve collection. The philosophy behind nudge is "There is no such thing as neutral design". Our partnership allows us to leverage key skills provided by Capita's leading Behavioural Insight Team, who are pioneers in the integrated use of behavioural science and advanced analytics to design and deliver our services. Our bills are now much more clearly designed, to show residents at first glance how much it is, and how to pay. Bexley made a decision to remove paper slips from our council tax bills to reduce costs and close our last remaining cashier's office to make efficiency savings and help drive channel shift.

Supporting, training, and investing in our employees is crucial to Bexley's success. Without them, we have no service. The revenues, benefit service and customer contact centre has been outsourced to Capita since 1996. Capita's training team has worked closely with our managers to design and deliver training to develop the team and drive increased capacity for council tax and business rate collection. Off the shelf courses have been delivered, including development workshops, as well as negotiation skills and dealing with customers to increase collection. The business rates service is delivered from the Capita Shared Service Centre in Bromley, using a pool of staff covering all collection, valuation and enforcement activities. The current service delivery model continues to adapt as we move towards full retention in 2020, and the sharing of resource and experience helps us make more informed decisions. Bexley's programme of transformation is now entering its next phase and we will seek to address the gap by identifying new opportunities for transformation, modernisation, savings or income generation.

We estimate that we will need to find further savings of £25 million in 2018/19, rising to £30 million by 2021. We know there are still savings to be made, but rather than incremental savings over a four year period until the next spending review, we're looking at more fundamental change to how we're funded. This means we have to continue to move from delivering services to commissioning services - and being smarter in how we do this. We need to move from enforcing rules and regulations to enabling residents to do more for themselves. We will be working closely with our partners and residents to achieve this, and planning further ahead to exploit the opportunities that growth will bring to the area. Although we know that we will need to be self-sufficient by 2020, we don't know yet what this will look like. We know our budget will reduce, but we will still have around £215m to spend. The biggest difference will be our much greater reliance on council tax, business rates, other income and massively reduced revenue support grant from central government. We aim to reach a position where we have a sustainable funding model for the future, based largely on council tax, the income we can raise ourselves and our retained business rate income.

This article first appeared in the IRRV Insight magazine in November 2016.

 

Given the prime importance of finding new sources of income and minimising our outgoings

in order to balance the books, council tax and business rates have a critical role to play in helping Bexley build a sustainable and vibrant future. This involves not only a relentless focus on maximising income from existing sources but also automating and improving income collection processes; reviewing the schedule of fees and charges; identifying new markets such as digital advertising and data; and generating income from waste collection. Partnership working has been instrumental in our approach to channel shift. Working in partnership with Capita, more than £6.5 million has been invested in the development of new technology to bring our council tax collection services more in line with what our citizens expect and need from their local authority. We have introduced online revenue accounts, e-forms, e-billing, text messaging and a staff performance monitoring system. The use of text messaging has been extended to cover reminder, and more recently, pre-summons and pre-enforcement stages. More applications are now available online, allowing residents to set up direct debits, sign up and manage their account to receive e-bills, report changes of address, apply for refunds, make payment arrangements and apply for discounts and exemptions. As a result, nearly 75% of all new direct debit sign-ups are now made online - up from 65% in April 2014 – and the number of residents choosing e-billing has doubled since last year. In 2015/16, there were more than 28,000 logins by Bexley residents to self-service, compared to 18,000 the previous year, showing that online access is becoming the first choice for most residents. As part of our transformation programme, a project is underway to redesign the entire council website and improve ease of access for residents. We have also reviewed all the bills and notices sent by council tax this year and applied nudge techniques to increase our direct debit payments, reduce contact and improve collection. The philosophy behind nudge is "There is no such thing as neutral design". Our partnership allows us to leverage key skills provided by Capita's leading Behavioural Insight Team, who are pioneers in the integrated use of behavioural science and advanced analytics to design and deliver our services. Our bills are now much more clearly designed, to show residents at first glance how much it is, and how to pay. Bexley made a decision to remove paper slips from our council tax bills to reduce costs and close our last remaining cashier's office to make efficiency savings and help drive channel shift. Supporting, training, and investing in our employees is crucial to Bexley's success. Without them, we have no service. The revenues, benefit service and customer contact centre has been outsourced to Capita since 1996. Capita's training team has worked closely with our managers to design and deliver training to develop the team and drive increased capacity for council tax and business rate collection. Off the shelf courses have been delivered, including development workshops, as well as negotiation skills and dealing with customers to increase collection. The business rates service is delivered from the Capita Shared Service Centre in Bromley, using a pool of staff covering all collection, valuation and enforcement activities. The current service delivery model continues to adapt as we move towards full retention in

2020, and the sharing of resource and experience helps us make more informed decisions. Bexley's programme of transformation is now entering its next phase and we will seek to address the gap by identifying new opportunities for transformation, modernisation, savings or income generation. We estimate that we will need to find further savings of £25 million in 2018/19, rising to £30 million by 2021. We know there are still savings to be made, but rather than incremental savings over a four year period until the next spending review, we're looking at more fundamental change to how we're funded. This means we have to continue to move from delivering services to commissioning services - and being smarter in how we do this. We need to move from enforcing rules and regulations to enabling residents to do more for themselves. We will be working closely with our partners and residents to achieve this, and planning further ahead to exploit the opportunities that growth will bring to the area. Although we know that we will need to be self-sufficient by 2020, we don't know yet what this will look like. We know our budget will reduce, but we will still have around £215m to spend. The biggest difference will be our much greater reliance on council tax, business rates, other income and massively reduced revenue support grant from central government. We aim to reach a position where we have a sustainable funding model for the future, based largely on council tax, the income we can raise ourselves and our retained business rate income. This article first appeared in the IRRV Insight magazine in November 2016.

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