Rotherham joins forces with BT

Rotherham Borough Council has enlisted the assistance of BT to help it to meet the Government's targets for electronic service...

Rotherham Borough Council has enlisted the assistance of BT to help it to meet the Government's targets for electronic service delivery and improve customer relations by providing staff with a more efficient way of working, writes Karl Cushing.

The multimillion-pound, 10-year partnership deal was signed in May, following a competitive tender for a "preferred partner". As Jonathan Prew, the council's strategic services manager explains, the council realised that it had to make some radical changes in the way it delivered its services but it lacked the resources both in terms of money and expertise to make those changes on its own.

Prew describes the partnership as "a private sector initiative with public sector ethics". Under the terms of the deal, BT will provide about £40m in up-front investment, which the council will repay over time. Prew says the cash will help the council unlock potential efficiencies that would otherwise be impossible to realise.

BT will also provide help with staff training. All contact centre workers will receive training and will be encouraged to take qualifications such as the European computer driver licence.

Prew says the project will require extensive change management and process re-engineering, as well as investment in IT. "A lot of it is about changing cultures, changing mindsets," he says.

The council aims to improve access to public services through new technology and by encouraging the public to use council buildings outside office hours. A key part of the project is a customer contact centre which will act as a one-stop shop for all queries, ensuring that local people receive the same standard of service whether they telephone, visit council offices, or access services via digital TV or the Internet.

The council is upgrading its 3,000 PCs and standardising onto a single platform, Windows XP. It is also evaluating strategies such as hotdesking. Staff will be encouraged to be more mobile in order to free up office space, and they will be equipped with the technology to do so. Senior council managers are currently evaluating Blackberry wireless e-mail devices.

The council and BT are even considering forming a joint company, similar to that which BT has formed with Liverpool City Council, to help carry out the change management programme.

However, the BT deal is just part of a wider project, Rotherham Connect - the council's attempt to "revolutionise" the way it works in order to deliver the best possible service to local citizens.

"Local government is changing and it is an exciting time to be in Rotherham right now," says Prew. "We have some of the most enthusiastic and talented staff in local government here." Although BT has only been on board for just over a month, Prew says the partnership has already realised "significant benefits".

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