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Paperless service – a local authority success story (part two)

by on January 16, 2014

Eastbourne Borough Council has made radical changes to the way it works. The result is the implementation of a paperless, multi-channel, customer contact case management system for use across council departments – including development control and planning policy functions.

In the first blog post we looked at the background to the changes. Here we look at the practicalities of paperless working.

Key elements of the move were the development of the remote server access and the ‘locked-down’ post room, where the rule that no paper leaves is strictly enforced.

All incoming post, including planning applications submitted on paper, are scanned and placed into ‘work trays’ alongside electronically submitted applications, ready to be dealt with on-screen.

All staff are enabled to access these work tray screens from a range of access points, including any hot desk or remote off-site location, utilising secure log-in encryption.

Eastbourne disposed of their paper planning record because a dual system had been run since 1995. Files from 1995-1947 were placed in off-site storage.

Changing the culture of paper first

The department faced a huge challenge to break the planners need for printed documents and paper versions of archived planning files. As staff have become more proficient in accessing electronically stored documentation, including live case files, requests for archived paper application files are now down to almost zero.

The new case worker staff have received training on how to validate and process, evaluate, measure where necessary, recommend and determine all householder and other minor applications using the new case management process. All of these are undertaken without a working paper file.

This has also freed up more time for Specialist Advisors (senior planners) to officiate on corporate priority applications in the borough as well as service improvement initiatives.

Some planning staff initially expressed concerns about the loss of ‘knowledge transfer’ under the new set-up, but regular group meetings and improved communication channels are providing ample opportunity for personal development.

‘Locked down’ post room

A large format plan printer is located in the ‘locked-down’ post room. The authority has considered locking off the print function altogether, but for now if planning officers need a drawing or key document to take on site they have the option to ‘print-on-demand’. User log-ins are monitored to record print requests and training is provided where appropriate to minimise the urge to print.

Eastbourne’s total planning applications case load comprises a high percentage of householder applications which can now be dealt with by the case workers. They receive, validate, register and consult on the applications. A senior planner decides on the application, and then the case worker issues the decision notice by email with a link back to the approved drawings held on the public register, which are automatically stamped with an electronic watermark.

All communications with applicants, agents and consultees during the process are conducted by email wherever possible. Civica’s App planning back office software fully integrates with the Civica W2 EDRMS providing the facility to generate, print and save electronic versions of templated or customised letters where required.

All consultation is carried out electronically: an integrated ‘comment’ facility automatically saves consultee responses, as well as neighbour responses, back into the public online case file.

The authority saw a reduction in planning performance during the transition and early use of the new process, but this has now improved to a reasonable figure, though there is still room to improve further.

A beta version of a completely upgraded council website was recently launched. The decision was taken to take maximum advantage of the Planning Portal by providing comprehensive links for Eastbourne website visitors to the planning and building regulations information on the Planning Portal site.

Any visitors wanting to make a planning application are directed straight to the Planning Portal’s Apply page where comprehensive guidance is available for new users.

7 Comments
  1. Robert Jays permalink

    This sounds like a very laudable and admirable project and for most elements of the planning process I would support that electronic documents are sufficient in terms of working documents. However I question the ability of planners to thoroughly review and analyse plans without a hard copy laid out infront of them.

  2. I recently went onto the Eastbourne BC website to download their Planning Applic” form. Couldn’t find it or any advice regarding it, so called up and was advised that all applications were now going to adjacent Wealden BC. I duly went onto Wealden site, downloaded and submitted the forms, which bounced back within 36 hours. Wrong authority…… “Wealden only deal with Reg’s Applic’s”. So called up EBC planners…..” we don’t do paper applics anymore…. so go thru’ the Planning Portal” instead and download a generic form there. I don’t have A1 scanners, and it was all printed so twisted their arm to take the paper application…. on Wealden Forms!!!!!. Its seems for all the training given to the planning officers, it might have been prudent to let the Customer Enquiries desk in on the secret……..and giving the world just a clue about this change on the website might have been “clever” too. Instead, the plug was simply pulled on the paper service without letting those who want to use it knowing anything about it.

    Thankfully they still passed my plans…….but one can’t go paperless without ALL things being considered and catered for. Simples.

    ps. Yes, I AM old school….. and been doing paper applic’s for over 30 yrs, and intend to continue for some years to come. Until such time as I ( and others like me) have hung up our Rotrings, we need the paper applic’ facility to be available. Please consider this ( and my income) before barring paper applic’s altogether.

  3. Charlie Pointon permalink

    How does Eastbourne deal with the Town and Parish Councils who are unable to adequately use electronic copies for their planning meetings ? Does it supply the necessary equipment ? I imagine it would require a change in legislation to allow only electronic supply to these councils.

  4. Tom Fortune permalink

    Hi All,
    My name is Tom Fortune, I am doing a Thesis as part of my Arch Tech Course in Southern Ireland.My Subject is “The introduction of E Planning in Ireland” and I am looking for help and comments from people in the UK and Scotland on how the UK Planning Portal works.
    Do you use it, do you like it, how well does it work, what are the advantages and disadvantages.
    Could you help me out please with your comments…they would be much appreciated
    Thank you
    Tom

    • Tom,
      in my opinion it’s brilliant!

      • Tom Fortune permalink

        Hi Chris,
        That says it all, would you have the time to be me a little essay, to expand on your opinions, how you found the changeover etc.
        Thanks Tom

      • Hi Tom,
        I am a little biased.
        I lead the Planning Portal team, it’s my blog!

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