Agenda item

Investment in the ICT infrastructure in desk top provision and software solution within Planning and Building Control (Agenda Item 6)

Report of the Assistant Director of Commissioning.


The Building Control Manager presented the report and explained the various benefits which the upgrade would provide.  The main aim was to make the systems more user-friendly and to provide easier access to information and plans and greater consultation facilities.


Mr Askew asked him to give a few examples of those improvements.


The new system would allow access to information 24/7.  Applicants, agents and residents would be able to log on to the system, insert details of the area they were interested in and access information on all the developments there.  The current system did provide access to planning applications, but the layout was poor.  The upgrade would improve that and also give information on Building Control applications.


With regard to mobile working, the case officer would be able to download their day’s work from their home, then visit sites, updating forms and uploading photographs, etc which could then be downloaded to the live system on return to the office or via a laptop port or Wi-Fi connection.


The changes would reduce the amount of paper used and the cost of postage as well as increasing speed and efficiency.


Mr Bambridge asked if Capita or the Council was paying.


The Building Control Manager advised that both would be investing in the system which was owned by the Council but used by Capita.  There were two parts to that investment, hardware and software.  Capita would only invest in the software provision.


The hardware changes would refresh existing equipment and enable mobile working.  The software upgrade would provide the improvements noted above.


Mr Bambridge agreed that there were areas that needed improving but said that he had previously been told that the Council’s system did not need to be upgraded.  He wondered why that had changed.


The Building Control Manager advised that it had been acknowledged that the service being provided to the customers was not as good as it could be and steps were being taken to address that.  The upgrade would make the information easily available and people would be able to find the answer to their questions without the need to speak to officers, thereby freeing up officer time.


Mr Bambridge was concerned that people still wanted to be able to speak to Officers and if they were out on site they would not be available.  Direct interaction was important and he hoped there could be improvement there.


Although that was not part of the project, the Building Control Manager acknowledged that that was something they were working to improve.


Mr Duigan asked if there was a timeline for the start and finish of the project and also asked if there would be any problems with migrating information.


The Building Control Manager advised that as the same system was already in use there would be no problems with data migration.  The changes would require new ways of working from staff and they would receive training to address that.


The project was a large development programme and it had been agreed with Capita that there would be a three phase approach to ensure that service was maintained whilst the upgrades were brought in.  It was expected that the whole project could be complete in twelve months and they were hoping to start as soon as possible.


The Chairman was very pleased that the Council would be using mobile working which he felt was the way forward.  He asked what the mobile working units would cost.


Different officers would require different technology.  It was likely that Planning Officers would use laptops which would cost in the region of £800-900.  Building Control Officers would need rubberised devices which would cost more, but they could cope with such things as water, dust and being dropped.


Office based staff would have their equipment refreshed and would upgrade to dual screen technology.


The Chairman was keen that the new technology should be compatible with that used in other departments of the Council so that Officers could be interactive and perhaps carry out tasks for other departments when visiting sites to reduce duplication of visits.


The IT Consultant advised that that would be possible but that currently there was no cross access between departments due to security measures.  If the Council wished to introduce such systems they would need to change working practices.


Mr Duigan asked if connection problems would cause restrictions to mobile working and the Building Control Manager advised that Officers would be able to work ‘off-line’ whilst on site or in areas where they could not connect.  That information would then be downloaded when access was available.


Mr Bambridge asked how mobile working would improve the Enforcement service and it was explained that Enforcement Officers would be able to streamline their working and cut down on the amount of paper involved.  They could upload evidence and photographs on-site and send pictures back to Planning Officers enabling decisions to be made without returning to the office. 


Mr Askew asked about the e-mail consultation hub and was advised that currently, statutory consultees were sent paper copies of applications.  Under the new system they would be consulted by e-mail through the consultation hub, cutting down on the cost of postage and the amount of paper used.


It was acknowledged that some Parish Councils did not have good internet access and they would still receive paper copies if necessary.


The Senior Accountant Capital and Treasury needed dates to monitor progress of the project as part of the Capital programme. 


The Chairman pointed out that there was no funding for additional revenue costs and it was noted that these would be found from savings made.  The Executive Member for Planning & Environmental Services was aware and had raised no objections.


The Senior Accountant Capital and Treasury advised that the application had been written to conform with the Business Improvement & Projects Sub-Committee Terms of Reference.  The recommendation was that £109,862 should be released from the Capital Programme.  £128,000 had been allocated and the balance of the funding would go back into the pot.


It was agreed that Members needed to receive updates on the progress of the report.  Mr Bambridge suggested that as there were three phases to the project there should be a report after each phase.  The Capital Monitoring programme included a report on all project progress. 


After some discussion about the reporting procedure all Members (including non-voting Members) supported the recommendation.


RESOLVED to release £109,862 from the Capital Programme subject to an update report to the Executive Member after four months and a further report to the relevant Committee in six months.


Mr Bambridge hoped that all Members would be kept informed via Cabinet of the progress of the project.

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