In 2012 Warwickshire CC undertook an intensive review of many of its services.
With inexorable pressure on council funding and an ever-growing demand for services, finding innovative ways to deliver services whilst delivering significant savings was essential if the council were to meet its budget challenges.
Parking services were quickly identified as a genuine opportunity to make significant savings whilst reinvesting surplus income into other vital transport and safety demands. A commissioning project was therefore set up to identify the best way to take the service forward given the challenges faced.
The commissioning project highlighted some significant points: the model of individual services delivered by district and borough councils limited consistency across the county; the same model also placed limits on efficiency due to the existence of two different back office operating systems and three different appeals administration and permit departments. It was clear that the enforcement challenges within Warwickshire were significant, but they were by no means unique. Many other local authorities across the country are facing similar challenges. A new approach was required that would deliver an improved and more efficient service. It was also vital the new solution harnessed innovation and service development to provide significant savings and increase the potential for reinvestment.
A well-trained and motivated team
Following a competitive tender for delivering a more comprehensive enforcement solution, Warwickshire CC confirmed a new contract with NSL in the summer of 2014. It took just two months to complete staff transfers, with every effort made to retain local knowledge, and for the new civil enforcement arrangements to become fully operational.
Central to the operation of the contract is the principal of regular and detailed communication between Warwickshire and NSL. This relationship is managed primarily through regular interaction between dedicated contract managers at both the county and NSL but also ensures regular contact at all levels within both organisations. This close communication allows both parties to approach the delivery of the Civil Parking Enforcement service in the spirit of partnership with a focus on driving up standards and delivery of excellent customer service.
The move saw the creation of a dedicated civil enforcement team covering four of the county’s five districts and the introduction of new working practices as well as a comprehensive training programme for all civil enforcement officers. Steps were also taken to identify and extract operational data that would facilitate a smarter and more focussed approach to enforcement.
Since the commencement of the contract, NSL has been operating an enforcement callout line. Using this line, members of the public can contact NSL directly to report vehicles parked in contravention of a parking control, NSL then aim to dispatch an officer to the location in question as soon as possible to investigate.
During the first full year of operation NSL received 288 requests for enforcement through the call out line. Ninety-seven percent of these calls resulted in an enforcement visit from a CEO, 74% were visited on the same day as the call and 89% within two days.
During the first 12 months all 26 officers and supervisors within the team were fully trained and new courses and workshops were introduced to broaden their skillsets so they could provide added value and support for the communities they serve. Consequently staff motivation was at a high level and the team delivered over twice as many visits than previously. The productivity of each officer tripled and there was a 78% increase in enforcement actions. The experience of motorists, residents and business owners also improved dramatically with nearly a thousand unprompted compliments received in the first year and without a single upheld complaint during the same period.
Significantly, new disciplines were introduced to capture service intelligence and background information, including regular service audits and ‘mystery shopper’ surveys. Decisive action was also taken to eliminate administrative bottlenecks, minimise earlier discrepancies between data on handhelds, ensure the consistent application of the council’s enforcement and cancellations policy and reduce the number of white-listed vehicles.
Savings and improvements exceed expectations
Such progressive initiatives have underpinned the formation of an effective, responsive and consistent shared services model where, for example, intelligence-led deployment ensures areas suffering from high levels of non-compliance are targeted more effectively. Former inconsistencies and frustrations have also been eliminated, with the same high standards in all civil enforcement activities now maintained across all areas and districts of the county served by the new team.
The expectation for operational savings from the new more streamlined shared service arrangement was originally around £0.54m, which represented nearly 2% of the council’s total savings target at the time.
In fact the annual savings delivered in 2015-16 were significantly higher, estimated at approximately £0.9m compared to usual pre-contract finances for the service. Such an outstanding financial result has proved invaluable and has reduced savings pressures elsewhere, preserving transport and safety operations across the county.
But that’s not all. The partnership has also continued to invest in additional training that has benefitted the community. NSL’s commitment to the communities it serves has seen all officers trained to become Dementia Friends to help the most vulnerable members of society, and World Host-trained to deliver a world class customer service.
Further, the terms of the contract allow local bodies, such as town councils or business improvement district companies, to supply one day’s training to officers operating in Warwickshire. This allows for an even greater focus on localised priorities for customer service, to include for example the location of local amenities and a sense of the history and character of the location they are operating in. This approach helps to promote the officers’ roles as a local ambassadors as well as their roles as enforcement officers.
“The decision to deliver parking enforcement through a joint arrangement and in close partnership with NSL has proved to be extremely successful,” said Monica Fogarty, communities director at Warwickshire CC.
“The success, however, has not just been restricted to operational efficiencies and savings demanded by the austerity measures facing all local authorities.
“Compliance and enforcement levels are also up and I’m delighted our local communities are seeing a very real difference in the way scarce parking spaces are managed and used as a result of our more coherent and innovative approach to enforcement and it’s now much easier to park legally and to access local shops and facilities.”
Evidence of the ongoing operational improvements that continue to result from the county-wide civil enforcement programme is provided within regular staff audits. The vast majority of the officers now report they receive compliments about service standards every week. And there has been a consistent change in how the officers see public perception of them since moving to the new countywide arrangement, with 70% of the team now saying that public opinion about their activities is either positive or very positive.
Luke Allen, director of communications, NSL