Tag Archives: data sharing

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Fraud and the digital economy

Sue Holloway, Director of Services Strategy

The Digital Economy Bill was hailed as a powerful weapon in the fight against fraud, but it’s barely featured in recent debates.

It might not be generating headlines, but it’s a problem that turns up time and time again – Blue Badge parking, sub-letting in social housing, council tax discounts and Right to Buy applications are but a few examples.

Estimates vary, but however many millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money is lost to fraud each year, we know that government could do with it back.

Housing fraud

Take housing. A recent survey by CIPFA showed that housing fraud made up 5% of the total volume councils detect each year, but at £146m it’s a whopping 50% of the cost.

Detection is still largely manual, and for Right to Buy there’s added pressure as most applicants have the right to a decision within four weeks.

Data is key. There will be indicators within a council’s own housing and benefits data that help spot risks, and when coupled with supplementary forms and simple cross-checks this would ensure only eligible tenants can exercise the right to buy.

Accurate data

Having access to accurate information is vital to fraud prevention.

The Blue Badge Improvement Service created a national register of badge holders that is used by every council. It prevented a well-known fraudulent practice where applications were made to multiple authorities by the same individual. It also created a simple process for notifying the issuing council of a change of address, previously a bureaucratic nightmare for all involved.

Before the service was launched, the Department for Transport estimated the annual cost of Blue Badge fraud at £46m a year. Recent figures suggest a significant improvement, with councils now detecting around £4m.

How the anti-fraud measures in the Digital Economy Bill will work in practice isn’t yet clear, but if you look at the cost to the public purse, tackling housing fraud might be a good place to start.



Taking control of the devolution revolution

Sue Holloway, Director of Services Strategy

Technology enables us to do a lot more online, but we still experience public services locally. We report crimes to our police force, use the schools and GPs closest to home and rely on councils for everything from social care to planning.

These organisations know what we need and how much it costs, so giving them greater control is a no brainer. And once you think about trying to prevent those needs rather than meet them, there’s an even greater incentive to pool knowledge and funding.


Strong leadership is vital because moving budgets locally is just a means to an end. We need ambitious plans for thriving communities, the creativity to bring them to life and the determination to create something that hasn’t existed before. That’s where digital comes in.

Every local government professional I’ve met wants to deliver more and better services but needs the right data to do it. They want security not silos, but data sharing is a legal minefield and practical nightmare, so silos are where they end up.

The creation of GM-Connect by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority is a hugely positive step, as is the announcement of a new London data office. The experience these areas already have through informal collaboration and shared services will be useful for solving some of the most intractable problems, like how organisations secure investment for initiatives that deliver huge cost savings to someone else.

But if I could ask just one thing of each new regional leader, it’s that they make the case for why the collection and sharing of data is the difference between a good service and a great one.

Data sharing

We’re a nation of social media sharers but haven’t yet shrugged off our distrust of sharing things with government. I’m not sure if this distrust is of ‘big government’ only, fuelled by the failure of big IT projects, or if it travels down to a local level but we have to change the tone of the debate to have any chance of moving forward.

In our experience, being clear about the benefits of data collection and sharing means that people are happy to give their consent. A good example is the National Joint Registry, which holds detailed information on millions of joint replacement surgeries.

When patients are asked for consent for their data to be added to the NJR, over 90% say yes and the benefits are clear. Its existence meant the surgeon could select exactly the right implant; that the device manufacturer could improve the implants over time; and that patients can be contacted quickly in the event of a recall. The same registry is now being used to track the introduction of new medical devices, with huge benefits for patient safety.

Models like these – where different parts of the public and private sector have access to the data they need for better decisions – are technically possible, genuinely transformational and can enjoy strong public support.

It’s a model that new leaders might consider to help make devolution a genuine revolution.

This blog is part of TechUK's Local Government Transformation campaign. Follow #techUKlocalgov


Industrialising collaboration for great local services

We need to industrialise collaboration and data sharing to sustain great local services

Sue Holloway, Director of Services Strategy

If anyone was questioning the government’s appetite for letting go, George Osborne answered it in the Spending Review when he announced a “devolution revolution”.

Rhetoric aside, being able to plan and deliver services close to the communities that use them offers huge benefits.

Local insight

Speak to a council or a housing association and it becomes immediately clear that they know their communities inside out – like which families are close to crisis or how many people are online.

Wolverhampton Homes, for example, realised that its plans to encourage more customers to use its online services by offering free wifi had little effect. So they started working with community partners promoting the general benefits of being online in the first place. It’s now getting easier to encourage their customers to use online services and they’ve set ambitious targets as a result.

It’s this level of insight that the government is relying on to sustain public services as austerity continues to bite. When you target services more effectively, efficiency is the knock-on benefit.

But the process of pooling insight and then acting on it can be exhausting. Putting people in the same offices can help, such as stationing a mental health nurse in a 999 call centre, but at some point we need collaboration to be automatic and second nature.

Collaboration by default

The police-led Athena programme is a model worth looking at, because it’s underpinned by a software platform that was designed for sharing.

Common data standards hold everything together but they don’t enforce the same structure or even the same technology – each police force can still use whatever software it wants to meet local needs.

Data sharing legislation, audit trails, even the requirements of the Victims Code are built in and automated, allowing information to be shared automatically with the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Court Service and, in future, victims themselves.

It frees up the huge amounts of time that get wasted on data entry and manual checks, and that’s before you factor in the benefit of knowing that the suspect you’re looking for is in custody in another force.

Productivity gains

As power continues to shift locally, we’ll need to industrialise collaboration so that it increases productivity to the same extent as it delivers better outcomes. Otherwise collaboration itself will become a burden that no amount of skilled professionals can overcome.