The Audit Commission estimated in a study published in 2013 that between 3% and 11% of any discounts, reductions and exemptions claimed against Council Tax are either incorrect or fraudulently claimed. There are also other taxes and benefits that are fraudulently claimed, contributing to a significant loss to the public purse. In 2014, 15 Essex based local authorities agreed to tackle this problem collectively. They wanted a simple, easily implemented, user-friendly system which allowed them to search information in order to identify anomalies, such as redundant discounts or multiple benefit claims. The system had to be low cost providing a clear return on investment to all the participating authorities. The Pan Essex Compliance and Counter Fraud Scheme was established, chaired by Rob Hawes, Revenues & Benefits Manager at Chelmsford City Council. Rob approached the East of England LGA (EELGA) for assistance in helping them turn their aspiration into reality.
Many people have concerns about ICT projects as they are notorious for costing far more than was intended and failing to deliver the anticipated outcomes. Eddie Gibson, Senior Manager at EELGA, said that “it was clear that having the right specification, setting out what mattered and which attracted innovative bidders was the most important thing here. We got in touch with one of our expert Talent Bank associates, Ken Cole, who has a strong track record in delivering this sort of project successfully.”
Operating within a limited budget, Ken got the Project Group into defining their priorities and expressing these in clear statements of what success would look like. The immediate problem to hand was that there were different ways to achieve this outcome, some were relatively low cost while others could cost millions of pounds.
“Our challenge was to focus on delivering the outcomes we wanted rather than getting side tracked into buying technology or what someone wanted to sell us”, said Ken, who looks after Commercial Contracting at the Blue Marble Group.
With a specification to hand, the group then worked with the Braintree Procurement Hub to ensure a robust EU compliant procurement process. The winning bidder was Reading based, Vigilant Apps, an SME with a great track record in handling data and delivering outcomes for its customers. Vigilant CEO, Andy Craig, said “the specification was good in that it allowed us to show our understanding of what the Essex authorities wanted, rather than simply tick boxes. We offered them a no nonsense, reliable solution which gave them what they wanted, plus a lot more too.”
The solution was up and running within a few months with authorities loading their draft data sets in phased groups. Most will be on board by early 2017. An advertising campaign has been launched on the side of buses advertising the fact that council tax data is being compared by councils across the county, so that people can correct any oversights now.
Rob Hawes said, “we have started with simple data relating to council tax and parking permits, but we are already in advanced talks to share other data sets too without breaching any confidentiality or legislation. Some people have got away with fraud in the past because they knew that local authorities found it difficult to share and compare information. The Vigilant App solution has allowed us to do that simply, which saves a huge amount of time as it gets rid of the need to compare records manually. It is also allowing us to show our Finance Directors a good return on their investment”, he added.
Rob Hawes was delighted with the way the project was conducted and the outcomes it has achieved. He explained: “working with Eddie at EELGA and Ken was a pleasure from the outset in that they helped us through lots of difficult hurdles and provided a constructive challenge to our thinking”. He added; “spending time planning and getting the right specification was important as we attracted lots of smaller and more innovative companies into the procurement process, including the winner”.
Cecilia Tredget (EELGA Managing Director) was also pleased with the outcomes: “the sector is facing lots of new challenges many of which can only be addressed by cross sector team working with a focus on defining and managing a common set of objectives. This project has done both of these things and is an exemplar for other collaborative groups to follow”.
Please contact any of the following for more information:
The Pan Essex Compliance and Counter Fraud Scheme
Contact Rob Hawes, firstname.lastname@example.org, 01245 606695
East of England LGA
Contact Eddie Gibson, email@example.com , 01284 358310
BlueMarble Group LLP
Contact Ken Cole, firstname.lastname@example.org, 07721 556537
Vigilant Apps Ltd
Contact Andy Craig, email@example.com , 07785 274490
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