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Wednesday 1 August 2018

Paperless permit policy secures digital award for council

Cheshire East Council’s drive to reduce the use of paper has seen the authority scoop a national award.

The council’s waste permit scheme, which is accessible from the council’s website, was put forward as an example of how the council is embracing the digital age by cutting down on the use of paper, both for the authority and residents.

The council has won an award for the’ best small scale digital application/project’ in the 2018 public sector paperless awards in Manchester.

On average, the council processed more than 10,000 waste permit applications a year and 60,000 permits were printed and posted for residents requiring special permits for using the council’s household waste recycling centres.

A waste permit is required by anyone using a commercial vehicle or car with trailer. 

In the financial year 2016/17, the council processed 6,845 applications online and 3,551 by phone, with a further 900 calls to process a change of address, vehicle registration or a general enquiry, usually resulting in the printing of a fresh permit to be posted out.

Through its innovative digital customer services project, residents were able to apply for a permit online and present proof of a permit at a household recycling centre using a mobile phone, tablet or laptop.

In the first three months after the digital system went live, in November 2017, 9,036 waste permit applications were processed, 93 per cent of them online – an increase of 26 per cent – and 97 per cent of permits were distributed via email rather than by post. 

Councillor Liz Wardlaw, Cheshire East Council cabinet member responsible for customer services, said: “In the brief time this new system has been operating, we estimate this will save £36,000 per year in paper costs, postage and officer time, and so the potential for greater economies across the council is tremendous.

“As a customer-focused council, we want to provide a better experience when residents and businesses use council services online – an experience that matches many of the other digital services and tools our residents will use each day.

“Delivering new and improved digital services will deliver significant financial benefits to the council – and to council taxpayers – in the long term.

“We realise we have a big task ahead in terms of transforming other services – but this is a step in the right direction.”

Cheshire East Council established its digital customer services project to embrace the digital age and to enable customer contact across all services to be primarily delivered through digital channels.

Many residents and businesses expect to be able to access services, products and information 24/7, through mobile phones, tablets, ipads or their desktop PC.

The project established a number of digital design principles to drive the design and development of the council’s digital services.  These included:

· Customer focus – technology to address specific user needs;

· Excellent user experience – comparable to sector-leading digital content and service providers;

· End-to-end digital service – a 100 per cent digital service target and

· Access for all – assisted digital support provided for customers who need extra support.

Working in partnership with Ansa – the council’s wholly-owned environmental services company – the digital team identified an opportunity with the waste permits process that could cut down on admin, paper and printing costs and deliver digital waste permits to a customer’s mobile device for presenting at the council’s recycling centres.

The system also enabled spontaneous mobile application and response. A customer arriving at a household waste recycling centre without a permit can apply for a permit on arrival, using their mobile device.

A number of other features, including barcode recognition, were embedded into the mobile app, to enable the whole operation to run smoothly.

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