Suffolk councils reap the rewards of shared customer services initiative

Suffolk County Council and Mid Suffolk District Council are sharing all their front-line services after moving their major departments to a joint venture. The move has cut the time taken to respond to enquiries from the public, without requiring additional money from taxpayers.

Suffolk County Council and Mid Suffolk District Council are sharing all their front-line services after moving their major departments to a joint venture. The move has cut the time taken to respond to enquiries from the public, without requiring additional money from taxpayers.

 

The project, called Customer Service Direct, has been implemented under a 10-year deal with BT that began in 2004. The supplier has committed to invest more than £50m in new IT systems over the contract’s term.

 

Some 400 council services are being delivered through Customer Service Direct, in what is believed to be the first example of two UK councils operating in the same geographical area agreeing to share all front-line services.

 

The councils share a face-to-face contact centre and a 30-seat call centre through which people can access both county and district council services. A transactional website to allow online access to services has also been created.

 

County and district councils deliver different services. Counties provide the most capital-intensive service – social services – and districts are responsible for the revenues and benefits services.

 

Although the councils’ front-office departments remain separate, back-offices were merged for the project. Employees from the councils were seconded, rather than outsourced, to the joint venture. Shared finance, human resources and ICT departments were established, and a single IT helpdesk was set up to support both councils. Recruitment became a shared service.

 

The councils said, “Significant investment has been made in new infrastructure funded through future efficiencies with no net increase in revenue sought from council taxpayers.”

 

After two years, Customer Service Direct has improved the proportion of enquiries resolved at the first point of contact from 41% in late 2004 to 67% in 2006. Telephone queuing times have been cut from 55 to 28 seconds over the same period.

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