When legislation was passed, fast-tracking Durham’s eight councils into one unitary authority, Durham County Council, by April 2009, the councils involved knew they faced a tough period of consolidation.
The merger inevitably demanded rationalisation of systems and offices to hit deadlines and maintain service excellence thereafter. A vital part of transition was the unitary being able to standardise its revenues and benefits as well as income management systems to ensure optimum revenue and simpler financial reporting post-amalgamation. To meet these objectives, Durham County Council and Civica established a shared service system, based on Civica’s Revenues & Benefits and ICON platforms. The shared system has delivered a range of operational benefits and better financial management. The common platform has also enabled Durham to operate consolidated revenues, benefits and income collection operations.
Whilst the unitary Durham County Council was rapidly set up as a legal entity, the complexities of maintaining local services were as yet unclear: the programme had tounify discrete revenues and benefits and cash receipting operations for seven districts and one county council.
Different departments were administering widely-differing operations that could be difficult to integrate. They inevitably had different resources and staffing levels. They also used different software platforms in varying levels of functionality to do so.
The Durham team knew that consolidating systems while rationalising operations such as local payment offices was a tough and very sensitive task. To achieve it while dealing with peaks of activity, such as an increase in council tax benefit assessment and income collection, demanded an effective strategy to build and share systems. The team also wanted an integration partner willing to work with different departments in offices located across the county. Any successful bidder would also need to knit together discrete software platforms to support these deep operational and cultural changes.
“We have built an effective shared services model covering revenues, benefits and income management. We partnered well with Civica and learned to plan and plan again. We have kept communicating with our staff on the programme milestones but also the interim targets to make it all happen.”
Ian Ferguson Head of Revenues & Benefits, Durham County Council
Durham County Council established a project team led by Ian Ferguson, head of revenues and benefits. This scoped the standardisation and shared service programme. The project team selected Civica’s Revenues and Benefits software and a Civica-hosted ICON cash receipting, income management and e-payments system. This common platform was essential to handle payments from different authorities and manage secure electronic transactions to the financial industry’s new PCI-DSS specification.
Civica’s process re-engineering experts worked with Durham to design change management and staff training elements as shared platforms were introduced. The shared service programme’s first phase comprised the implementation of a unitary income management and cash receipting system.
Phase two tackled the building of common revenues and benefits platforms in tandem with the streamlined cash receipting and income management system.
Because of inevitable project delays, the second phase had to take in reassessment of the shared service model’s business case and re-planning of the different income management systems’ integration.
In this phase of work, Durham’s project team planned change management with regular communication to all staff and training on new and standardised Civica software systems.
Inevitably in such a multi-faceted operation, the team had to constantly re-plan and check milestones in order to ensure that the project was delivered.
Working in partnership, Durham and Civica regularly reviewed progress and ensured the right resource came to bear on the project at the critical times to ensure the success of the programme of work.
Durham County Council and Civica established a shared service system that has delivered a range of operational benefits and better financial management. The common platform saw Durham operate consolidated council tax demands and income collection operations. Using ICON, the authority hopes to achieve more cost-effective cash receipting across its operations. It has also built common processes to help set up full end-to-end income management systems. This platform covers local outlets’ point-of-sale with electronic distribution of income. It accommodates different file formats to the council’s back offices, supporting full and simpler bank reconciliations. The payment systems are all PCI-DSS compliant, ensuring secure transactions for system users.
The inevitable backlog that built up during a large project was a concern but the income management team is using jointly agreed action plans to bring the systems fully up to date within the project timescales. This has been achieved by a combination of the dedication and hard work of the team at Durham, and features and benefits that the Civica platform has brought to the council.
One of the biggest impacts of the shared service has been on staff motivation and productivity. Whereas the different revenues and benefits and incomes teams had understandably been frustrated at the start of the changes, the second phase’s greater focus on phased integration system training and very frequent communication with staff changed matters. These interventions, particularly on the cultural aspects of change across different locations, have ensured that different departments’ staff have successfully raised productivity and operational efficiency.
Durham’s teams are managing key workloads like council tax and business rates better and boosting front line services to communities.
The revenues team in particular is very confident, able to enhance the Civica systems’ functionality and share its skills across different departments: they have achieved the informal status of ‘internal consultants’ at the authority’s local offices.
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