Councils share cost of monitoring

Ten Scottish councils have joined forces to set up a shared service to measure the performance of their housing benefit systems.

Ten Scottish councils have joined forces to set up a shared service to measure the performance of their housing benefit systems.

The councils spent a total of £1.5m on a hosted service from Aspiren. The system sends electronic regulatory returns to the Department for Work and Pensions, integrates with councils' third-party housing benefit systems and streamlines business processes.

Unlike other attempts to set up shared service centres in local government, Aspiren's Aspireview system is owned equally by all the councils that use it.

Nigel Watson, chief technology officer at Aspiren, said, "The big lesson we learned [from previous deployments] is that if you drive it from one large authority, you are going to run into problems around ownership and buy-in."

Watson cited Aspireview's ability to bypass the councils' IT departments as one of the reasons why the implementation had taken just five months from the signing of the contract. "We do not need to go near the council IT department to get all of this implemented," he said.
When the contract was signed, all 10 councils met with the Department for Work and Pensions and local government watchdog Audit Scotland to agree what the performance management system would measure.

Colin Shand, East Lothian Council's head of finance and IT, said the time taken to process housing-benefit applications has fallen from 100 to 30 days since the council began using the system. "Our target is to get it down to 20 days," he said.

The system has also enabled the councils to abandon their paper-based monthly and quarterly statutory returns to the Department for Work and Pensions. "It used to take two or three days every month or quarter," Shand said. "Now we will have a look over it in one morning."

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