Councils can make chargeable waste collections work for them – and their residents, writes Steve White, Software Business Development Manager, Yotta
Historically, local authorities often included garden or bulky waste collections within the service provision covered by the council tax. In today’s times of austerity, however, the council tax typically covers essential services only. Local authorities are increasingly charging people to have their bulky or garden waste collected, and even offering additional services if residents need their wheelie bins washing or garden replanting.
Public demand for these services remains high despite these charges – and so this represents a potentially significant source of income for councils. However, given this, residents expect the service they receive to be easy to order and of a suitable high quality. In fact, this is often the determining factor in whether people are prepared to order these services on a recurring long-term basis.
Service quality will also affect the council’s reputation. Residents will typically tell neighbours, friends and colleagues if a service is delivered poorly but also if it is delivered well. In other words, they could be advocates of that service, thereby indirectly encouraging further take-up, or they could be detractors, helping put a brake on further adoption in their local area.
That poses challenges for councils. They need to ensure their systems and processes are up to scratch in order to generate a positive income contribution as well as to keep residents happy. Unfortunately, many are falling short – and some are finding that far from being a net revenue generator, offering these kinds of services, without also putting efficient processes and systems in place, can end up a loss-maker.
So, given this, what are the main challenges councils face in making these services efficient – and how can they overcome them? One of the big issues today is around payments processing. Sometimes there is no online provision. In some cases, residents are required to make payments over the phone, or even to visit a council office or contracted service provider in person, to make the payment.
In today’s digital age, councils need to offer a simple online payments process for these services, enabling people to pay for services quickly and securely without requiring them to enter their payment details every time.
Back-end processes are typically also overly-complex or fragmented. Work instructions and emails frequently have to be issued to operations teams whenever a resident signs up or orders a service. Manual lists are often generated which councils then must transpose further before they can be managed operationally. Residents typically won’t be aware of the broken or inefficient processes that must be navigated behind the scenes. But they may be impacted by service delays.
These broken processes typically also slow the speed at which information is updated across the whole system and made available to residents. Councils may, for example, find it difficult to provide accurate, up-to-date information to anyone signing up to a chargeable garden waste service about exactly when a new bin will be delivered, or their bin collected. Residents increasingly experience these kinds of instant service updates in their daily lives as consumers and they expect the same when engaging with the council too.
So, given all these challenges, what solutions can councils put in place to deliver the level of service that customers are increasingly looking for? At the front end, they need to look at easy-to-use tools that allow residents to quickly and simply sign up for new service offerings. Alongside that, there is also a need to implement web portals that allow customers to manage their account, the services they have ordered, pay for these easily and securely and renew services accordingly.
Equally, all this information needs to be linked in and integrated through to the back office at the council and, through mobile devices, to the service delivery teams on the ground. Route optimisation has a part to play here. Making use of all relevant information at their disposal, councils can build a connected infrastructure that helps them develop optimised routes for vehicles that have to visit a high number of premises in a day. By logging into their in-cab mobile device, the service team or operative will have all the information they need at their disposal to guide them through their daily work. That makes the administration of the whole process much quicker and more efficient than if councils were forced to rely on manual, paper-based processes or even fragmented systems.
Ensuring that their environmental services offering for residents is running at peak levels of efficiency also provides councils with the technology platform they need to branch out and start providing similar income generating services to commercial customers within (and, in some cases, external to) their geographic boundaries.
Moving forwards, councils can also use data analytics, allied to the right technology platform, to inform service provision and drive efficiencies. There are many different options. They could, for example, use it to work out where the gaps in their service offering are, or analyse the reasons why certain groups of residents have not signed up, and even get an employee to visit them. It is an example of how local authorities can use service data to generate insight and make better decisions, including how best to grow the net income contribution. And it is also another illustration of the key role technology can play in delivering environmental service efficiency.