Transformation work supports Covid response

Last Updated: 28 October 2021

An ambitious five-year programme has successfully transformed the way council services are delivered – and has proved invaluable in dealing with the Covid pandemic response.

A comprehensive report to South Lakeland District Council’s Cabinet meeting (20 October 2021) reviewed the Customer Connect programme and looked at what has been achieved since it was launched in 2016.

Councillors also highlighted the role the new ways of working under Customer Connect played in the council’s ability to quickly and effectively respond to the significant demands of the Covid pandemic.

Customer Connect aims to improve the lives of residents and businesses by delivering the services and support they require in a way which suits them and provides the best value for money for taxpayers.

The strategy set out to re-model services in a more efficient way, ensuring the customer is always at the heart of everything the council does, at the same time reducing waste and simplifying processes, maximising use of digital and online customer service options and restructuring the whole organisation from top-to-bottom to also save significant amounts of money.

The report to Cabinet detailed key benefits, including:

  • The implementation of a whole new operating model with activity centred around the customer, including a full organisational cultural change around the right customer-focused attitudes and behaviours
  • ‘Agile’ project management approach and more flexible ways of working for staff to better deliver support and services
  • Re-model of Kendal Town Hall and main council office accommodation to put more accessible and modern customer facilities ‘at the heart of the high street’ and support new ways of working for staff
  • Improved digital options – including access to services 24/7 via streamlined and more accessible website, paperless billing for Council Tax and the new My Account function, which has already had 8,500 sign-ups in less than a year since it was launched.
  • Moving more transactions online means staff are freed up to spend more time resolving queries for customers that still prefer face-to-face or telephone contact
  • Staffing and organisational restructure to achieve savings of £850,000 in year one and then £1.5 million annually ongoing
  • Creating new office letting accommodation to support small and medium-sized businesses and an additional 200 square metres of letting space in Kendal Town Hall for community use

SLDC Leader Councillor Jonathan Brook said: “: “Customer Connect has been helping us to be more efficient and better able to deliver the services our residents deserve. The benefits of the new ways of working were particularly evident during the pandemic.

“Our new ways of working meant officers were quickly able to design and build online processes for grant applications and we were able to make grant payments much faster to the businesses and families that needed support.

“We improved the design and functionality of our website application forms with each round of grants, allowing us to look up customer details and validate them against previous applications, further speeding up the process and making sure payments of the various small business and discretionary business grant schemes and the test and trace self-isolation payment schemes were made quickly and correctly.

“As a result South Lakeland was among the best performing councils at distributing grant monies and we also dealt with more applications than any other council in Cumbria, with nearly 30,000 Covid grant applications processed and £115 million paid out.

“Our new Locality Teams formed as part of Customer Connect also came into their own during the pandemic, particularly in supporting the safe reopening of high streets, and our new technologies meant we were able to continue with council business with little or no disruption to services, with staff able to work remotely and councillors attending 57 ‘virtual’ committee meetings.’’

Councillor Robin Ashcroft added: “We have all felt the benefit of the work carried out through the Customer Connect programme, especially during the pandemic. It has enabled us to deliver services and pay grants much more efficiently and I applaud the boldness of the decision to undertake this programme.’’

Councillor Tom Harvey said: “It was clearly the right decision to go ahead with Customer Connect. It's enabled the council to work more flexibly and this has played a significant part in dealing with the issues raised by the pandemic.’’

Councillor Janette Jenkinson added her praise during the Cabinet meeting, saying:  “This council has always been good at having a vision and the Covid pandemic has definitely proved that the future is in more digital options.

“It has been a joy and I am a big fan. I hope that the new unitary authority will recognise the benefits of this and will use the same ways of working because it would really enhance our area.’’

The report to Cabinet recognises that there is still ongoing work under the programme, including more ‘Purpose, Values and Behaviours’ workshops and further customer service training for customer-facing staff along with continued improvements to online services and adding more functionality to My Account.

Councillor Brook added: “This programme has put us in good stead now and for the future and we can take the experience and knowledge from Customer Connect as we integrate into the new unitary authority.

“Customer Connect really is an example of local government at its best, striving to find ways to save taxpayer money, while protecting and enhancing services, improving access for customers and supporting our communities and businesses.’’