Tag Archives: digital services


Taking control of the devolution revolution

Sue Holloway, Director of Services Strategy

Technology enables us to do a lot more online, but we still experience public services locally. We report crimes to our police force, use the schools and GPs closest to home and rely on councils for everything from social care to planning.

These organisations know what we need and how much it costs, so giving them greater control is a no brainer. And once you think about trying to prevent those needs rather than meet them, there’s an even greater incentive to pool knowledge and funding.


Strong leadership is vital because moving budgets locally is just a means to an end. We need ambitious plans for thriving communities, the creativity to bring them to life and the determination to create something that hasn’t existed before. That’s where digital comes in.

Every local government professional I’ve met wants to deliver more and better services but needs the right data to do it. They want security not silos, but data sharing is a legal minefield and practical nightmare, so silos are where they end up.

The creation of GM-Connect by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority is a hugely positive step, as is the announcement of a new London data office. The experience these areas already have through informal collaboration and shared services will be useful for solving some of the most intractable problems, like how organisations secure investment for initiatives that deliver huge cost savings to someone else.

But if I could ask just one thing of each new regional leader, it’s that they make the case for why the collection and sharing of data is the difference between a good service and a great one.

Data sharing

We’re a nation of social media sharers but haven’t yet shrugged off our distrust of sharing things with government. I’m not sure if this distrust is of ‘big government’ only, fuelled by the failure of big IT projects, or if it travels down to a local level but we have to change the tone of the debate to have any chance of moving forward.

In our experience, being clear about the benefits of data collection and sharing means that people are happy to give their consent. A good example is the National Joint Registry, which holds detailed information on millions of joint replacement surgeries.

When patients are asked for consent for their data to be added to the NJR, over 90% say yes and the benefits are clear. Its existence meant the surgeon could select exactly the right implant; that the device manufacturer could improve the implants over time; and that patients can be contacted quickly in the event of a recall. The same registry is now being used to track the introduction of new medical devices, with huge benefits for patient safety.

Models like these – where different parts of the public and private sector have access to the data they need for better decisions – are technically possible, genuinely transformational and can enjoy strong public support.

It’s a model that new leaders might consider to help make devolution a genuine revolution.

This blog is part of TechUK's Local Government Transformation campaign. Follow #techUKlocalgov


Industrialising collaboration for great local services

We need to industrialise collaboration and data sharing to sustain great local services

Sue Holloway, Director of Services Strategy

If anyone was questioning the government’s appetite for letting go, George Osborne answered it in the Spending Review when he announced a “devolution revolution”.

Rhetoric aside, being able to plan and deliver services close to the communities that use them offers huge benefits.

Local insight

Speak to a council or a housing association and it becomes immediately clear that they know their communities inside out – like which families are close to crisis or how many people are online.

Wolverhampton Homes, for example, realised that its plans to encourage more customers to use its online services by offering free wifi had little effect. So they started working with community partners promoting the general benefits of being online in the first place. It’s now getting easier to encourage their customers to use online services and they’ve set ambitious targets as a result.

It’s this level of insight that the government is relying on to sustain public services as austerity continues to bite. When you target services more effectively, efficiency is the knock-on benefit.

But the process of pooling insight and then acting on it can be exhausting. Putting people in the same offices can help, such as stationing a mental health nurse in a 999 call centre, but at some point we need collaboration to be automatic and second nature.

Collaboration by default

The police-led Athena programme is a model worth looking at, because it’s underpinned by a software platform that was designed for sharing.

Common data standards hold everything together but they don’t enforce the same structure or even the same technology – each police force can still use whatever software it wants to meet local needs.

Data sharing legislation, audit trails, even the requirements of the Victims Code are built in and automated, allowing information to be shared automatically with the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Court Service and, in future, victims themselves.

It frees up the huge amounts of time that get wasted on data entry and manual checks, and that’s before you factor in the benefit of knowing that the suspect you’re looking for is in custody in another force.

Productivity gains

As power continues to shift locally, we’ll need to industrialise collaboration so that it increases productivity to the same extent as it delivers better outcomes. Otherwise collaboration itself will become a burden that no amount of skilled professionals can overcome.


Department for Transport – HGV Road User Levy case study

Successful first year for HGV Road User Levy

The HGV Levy came into force in April 2014 and its foreign operator payment system took 97% of payments digitally in its first year. 

The Department for Transport was looking for a cost effective way to bring forward legislation requiring all heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) over 12 tonnes to make a contribution to wear and tear on UK roads through a new time-based charge. The levy needed to be operational on 1st April 2014, a year ahead of original plans. 

For UK-registered HGVs, payment of the levy would be made alongside the existing Vehicle Excise Duty transaction, but a new GOV.UK digital service was needed to manage payments from foreign HGVs. 

Complex charges

The amount paid needed to vary according to the weight, number of axles and type of vehicle. The levy also had to comply with EU charging legislation, in particular a cash payment option needed to be available to drivers, and operators given the choice of daily, weekly, monthly and annual levies to suit their operational requirements.

In September 2013, Northgate Public Services was awarded a five-year contract to create and run the new payment system and took on the risk of development and implementation.
After extensive consultation with drivers, hauliers, booking agents and enforcement agencies three portals were built to cover payments, enforcement and public access,
allowing anyone to check that a valid levy has been paid.

A major communications programme with 23 partner organisations raised awareness of its introduction. 

Simple screens

Payment screens were designed to be accessible from any device and easy to use, featuring content in six languages and with strong use of images. Users can create accounts to manage their fleet and make advance or one-off payments and a multi-lingual contact centre is available for payment assistance. The system also matches levy payment records with records of HGVs that arrive or leave by ferry or the Channel Tunnel. Enforcement agencies – DVSA in Great Britain, DVA in Northern Ireland and the police – can then
be kept up to date through the system to enable targeted on-the-road enforcement.


The foreign operator payment system went live on GOV.UK on 1st April 2014. In the first month alone, 170,000 levies were sold to 59 different countries, with 97% of payments made digitally, compared to 20% for similar schemes elsewhere. More than one and a half million levies were sold in the first year, averaging about 6,000 each day. The levy generated over £46 million revenue from foreign HGVs for the Government in its first year of operation and compliance rates are high, at about 95%. 

Continuous improvement

An ongoing engagement programme with foreign operators and drivers helps to deliver further improvements. Additionally, closer co-operation with other road, bridge and tunnel charging bodies like the Dartford Crossing, London Congestion Charge and M6 Toll is being considered to provide a one-stop payment service for foreign operators. Details of the Euro Class of the vehicle are also collected within the Foreign Operator Payment System as this may be factored into the levy in future to encourage the use of vehicles with lower emissions.

Download the case study