A ten-year partnership will be formed which will provide much easier access to council services and help the authorities meet the challenging information and communications technology targets set by central government. Among the improvements to service will be:
-A one-stop centre for services within 15 minutes of 99% of Mid Suffolk DC's population
-A short and simple list of easy-to-remember contact numbers for county and district services
-A single point of access to joined-up district and council services and joined-up health and social care services
-No 'wrong number' for customers: trained staff will take on board customers' needs and ensure that they are met.
Bryony Rudkin, leader of Suffolk CC, said: 'I think that no one should have to hunt for basic services. I see older people who live alone and depend on us for support. I know how frustrated they are when they go to our offices and are told that the services they need are not handled there. These improvements will make life easier for our customers. This joint venture company is all about becoming more customer focused and putting residents at the heart of our public services. In the future, people will no longer need to be passed between several departments, or even from one council to another when they get in touch. Our aim is to put the priorities of our customers first by organising the way we deliver services around their needs.'
The joint venture company, which will be owned by the two councils and BT, will change this fragmented, costly, inefficient way of delivering services. The partnership wi ll not only cross the public-private sector divide, but will also embrace the two levels of local government.
Aware of the importance of leaving nothing to chance when creating a complex partnership like this, Suffolk CC and Mid Suffolk DC have been working together in the eight month long negotiations, placing great emphasis on analysing and monitoring every aspect of the project.
Ray Nowak, Suffolk CC portfolio holder for resources, said: 'We put BT through an exacting procurement process to ensure they were up to the job. As a result we have confidence our partnership with them will be good for the people of Suffolk. We will offer Suffolk the highest quality services and technology at a price which gives our taxpayers excellent value.
'The exciting thing about working with a private partner is that their approach is not about IT: it is focused on cultural and service transformation supported by IT. This offers us significant extra investment in staff training, technology, and access to expertise which we would not otherwise have within the councils. We are now looking forward to taking these ideas forward and seeing the results.'
The two councils have chosen to work with BT because of its proven capabilities in helping organisations transform themselves to become more efficient and customer-orientated. The ICT services company is well known and well respected for its work partnering councils like Rotherham MBC and Liverpool City Council. Now it will bring this expertise to a more rural area where the county council has already earned a good CPA rating. BT has chosen CGI Group Inc as its strategic technology partner, a company that specialises in information technology and business process outsourcing services, with an excellent track record of innovative working with government agencies in north America.
Kathy Pollard, portfolio holder for access, said: 'Improving access to public services is one of the first areas we want this new company to address. We will provide more ch oice and convenience in accessing public services from new contact and service centres and the internet. We know this is what people and businesses expect.'
Initially a service centre will be opened in Stowmarket, with two access points in Needham Market and Eye, and with a telephone enquiry answering service taking calls for county council and Mid Suffolk DC services.
The plan will also deliver a website where customers could not only access service information but also carry out transactions, such as paying bills or applying for licences online.
Options will also be explored for providing access to council services at other, convenient locations within local communities. The ultimate aim is a significant improvement in service delivery to Suffolk citizens.
Sara Michell, deputy leader of Mid Suffolk DC: 'This will be a radical new way of delivering our services to bring greater access to the public and quicker decisions for the benefit of all.'
Chris Lawrence, portfolio holder for finance and resources of Mid Suffolk DC added: 'This innovative partnership will bring very significant benefits for the people of Mid Suffolk and beyond. The project is not just about improving and modernising how we use IT in our business activities, but more importantly creating better, easier to use ways for the public to access essential services. What's more, there will be important financial gains for Mid Suffolk that should make our pledge of 'the best possible services at the lowest possible council tax level' more achievable. It's a good day for Mid Suffolk.'
Pierre Danon, chief executive officer, BT Retail, said: 'BT will bring its experience of working in partnership with the public sector to this new joint venture which will break boundaries by embracing county and district councils. This collaborative way of working is proven to be effective at improving services for local citizens and we look forward to bringing benefits to the people and businesses of Suffolk.'
Gavin Chap man, Managing Director, CGI Group (Europe) Ltd, commented: 'CGI has a worldwide reputation for helping governments take a single-window, joined-up approach to delivering outstanding service to citizens. We have successfully pioneered and implemented this work internationally, in the last 10 years. Efficient government drives economic development and creates vibrant economies: we are pleased to be part of this work to create a thriving economy for the people of Suffolk.'
Today's announcement shows how the two Suffolk councils are responding positively to central government expectations on the way that public services are delivered in the future.
The initiative has achieved cross-party support from both councils.
A review is currently being carried out by Peter Gershon with the aim of introducing an innovative approach to reducing bureaucracy, increasing efficiency and attracting new investment and resources across all levels of government. Through this pioneering partnership with BT, the councils will be able to make significant progress towards meeting these requirements
When the joint venture company is up and running, the partners expect more organisations to become involved as the project evolves to meet the needs of the county.