Doing more with less – it’s a challenge that runs across the public sector. There’s no easy answer to this drive for efficiency, many public organisations are looking at increasing their use of digital solutions to drive greater levels of efficiency in resource hungry tasks.
One area that puts pressure on public finances is the battle with fraud. It is estimated that council tax fraud costs local authorities £131 million a year. And, this figure is increasing at a rate of 32 percent from 2011 statistics.
Like many councils, Stratford-upon-Avon’s district council have a fraud investigation team which focuses on reducing the volume of council tax fraud. To tackle this problem, detailed checks have to be made on individuals and their physical location – so geography plays a significant role in what initially sounds like a purely financial problem.
Like many densely populated urban areas, Hull is a city not without its challenges. Over ten years ago it was singled out as having one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the UK.
Hull City Council has now turned this around and thanks to work with Hull primary care trust (PCT) and a range of school, street and drop-in centre initiatives. The rate of teenage pregnancy is now significantly below the national average, with an estimated saving of £8 million. A targeted approach, supported by Ordnance Survey mapping products which helped to visualise the problem areas, has delivered significant improvements.
‘Hull spends £800 000 a year on the programme but saves more than £8 million by reducing teenage pregnancies and preventing children from going into care… Mapping is critical to the process, not only to ensure that contraception services are located in the right place but also to help communicate complex data to different audiences and to provide evidence that the strategy is effective. “
Gail Teasdale, Integrated Services Manager, Children and Young People’s Services, Hull City Council.
Making geographic information accessible and useful to the public is a key goal for Ordnance Survey and it’s great when examples of our Public Sector Mapping (PSMA) datasets are used in something that’s easy to explain.
Surrey Heath Borough Council is using interactive maps for the public consultation stage of a major development, the Camberley Town Centre Area Action Plan. The maps built into Council’s website enable citizens to go online, view maps, aerial photography, download details of the proposed development and leave comments. This facility is enabled through Astun Technology’s iShare data integration and publishing platform and more specifically its ‘Logger’ module
This month, we’re celebrating the first year anniversary of the launch of the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA). The ground-breaking 10 year agreement between government and Ordnance Survey came into effect last April and allows the majority of public sector bodies in England and Wales, regardless of size, to use centrally funded geographic datasets.
Twelve months on from the launch, 2,198 organisations from town, parish and community councils to central government organisations, have joined as members of the agreement and have identified savings of more than £16 million through the use of PSMA data.
We were delighted to celebrate an important milestone in the life of the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA) with the announcement that the 2000th member has joined.
Tatenhall Parish Council in East Staffordshire is the latest public sector organisation to sign up for the ground breaking agreement which launched in April last year (2011).
The agreement allows the majority of public sector bodies in England and Wales to use centrally funded geographic datasets which can help with making vital efficiencies and improvements to service deliveries such as planning, transportation management, social housing and education services.
As the winter weather is finally starting to hit Great Britain and we’re seeing snow in Scotland and the north of England, we’ll also start seeing more grit on the roads.
Nottinghamshire County Council will be spending £2.79 million this year gritting 1,800 km of road or 35 percent of the county’s road network, filling grit bins and clearing snow.
They are one of many local authorities that now publish a map of gritting routes. The Council grits A and B roads and major bus routes during the winter weather, which accounts for about a third of the county’s road network, and some additional routes during severe weather.
The Homes and Communities Agency has launched a mapping portal that it hopes will help local councils to make better informed decisions when planning new homes and other local services.
SIGnet – the Spatial Intelligence Geographic Network – is a free online GIS resource that brings together our data, as well as that from the Office for National Statistics, local councils themselves, and the Environment Agency, all in a single place.
It’s been launched following testing by 11 local authorities over a 7 month pilot period and displays spatially referenced data – whether that’s a site boundary, local population data, or the location of a specific hospital or school, so that councils can identify relationships between those datasets and make better decisions.
Natalie Wesley, Infrastructure & Development Manager at HCA, told me that early adopters were already seeing the benefits in a range of areas; “Our users are suggesting a range of uses such as sharing community mobile library bus routes, mapping accessibility for rural locations, asset rationalisation, land ownership boundary audits and the identification of opportunities for shared services.
“We think that the action of bringing datasets together from different sources and holding them in a common format is where the power of the system lies.”
Accessible for free to members of the Public Sector Mapping Agreement, SIGnet has been designed to promote data sharing across central and local government. And making it web-based puts spatial analysis within reach of non-specialists and organisations that don’t have the resources to maintain a full geographic information system, although Natalie was keen to point out that all organisations, GIS literate or otherwise, could benefit from it.
Oliver Russell, GIS Project Officer at Hampshire County Council, helped test SIGnet during the pilot phase: “Clearly we already know how many homes we have in the County, or schools, or hospitals; but SIGnet allows us to drill down to individual street level and present data in an easy to use format – such as a map or plan – that anyone can understand. We tested SIGnet and were impressed by its potential not least as an extremely useful tool, but also because it could save us money on buying GIS resource.”
So, SIGnet sounds like an extremely useful resource, particularly for broadening the use of geographic information, and it’s an early example of how the PSMA is helping to tear down boundaries between organisations and encourage greater data sharing and collaboration – both in and outside of an organisation.
Natalie concludes: “Allowing staff to view and present spatial data in a very user friendly way reduces the pressure on a GIS team and makes the data feel owned by all – rather than behind GIS gatekeepers. At the HCA, we’ve found that sharing and increasing access to spatial data inside our own organisation has been as important as making it available to our partners.”
Any PSMA members that want to sign up to use SIGnet should email them at SIGnet@hca.gsx.gov.uk
And if you’re using the service already, or were one of the councils asked to pilot it, let us know what you think.
Transparency is high on the political agenda these days.
As you’ll be aware, the coalition government has made serious commitments to change the culture in the public sector from one where data are hoarded in-house to one where they are open by default.
Public sector organisations of all stripes from the biggest government departments to the smallest local authorities are starting to publish datasets on a wide range of topics such as the salaries of senior officers, the details of local schools, or even the service requests received by the customer services department.
The data isn’t always well-formatted or easy to process, nor is it always given out with a happy heart, but it’ there.
However, while great strides have been made in making data available, less progress has been made in making it meaningful to a wider public. Let’s face it, while there’s a lot of a talk about “armchair auditors” downloading reams of data and spending endless nights combing through them in Excel, most people aren’t going to know what to do with a raw CSV file or even care enough to try.
Opendata in government
In Arcus, we have been working with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead to address this. Jointly, we have created a solution called DataTAP, which makes it easy for the authority to publish open data from internal systems and make it useful to the average resident.
In a nutshell, the solution has an agent sitting inside the Council’s IT infrastructure that extracts and transforms the data into a publishable format. The data is then transferred to our infrastructure on the Cloud and made available to the public in a variety of formats.
This includes the usual downloadable CSVs and XML, but more importantly we add the ability to instantly visualise the data in a variety of formats including tables, charts, KPIs, and notably in this contexts heat maps based on the OS OpenSpace API.
In recent years we’ve seen geography underpin the response to a range of different national and regional emergencies ranging from flooding and terrorism to pandemic flu – all of which have endangered parts of our critical infrastructure. Whatever the emergency, given the myriad of differing organisations involved, geography is really the only way of quickly visualising information in a consistent and integrated way.
Through the use of GI based emergency planning tools, Bristol City Council has reduced the amount of time it takes to produce analysis and reports of relevant geographic data from 6 hours to just 20 minutes. This huge improvement supports those involved in the response effort, providing rapid access to data on which to base decisions and will essentially speed up response times and help save lives.