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Standardised waste data could save councils £500m

Local authorities in England would be in line to make £500m savings over 14 years if they implemented common data standards when renegotiating waste contracts, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

The DCLG’s Local Digital Programme examined the business case for improving data sharing when sorting out waste contracts, which are typically up for renewal every seven years.

A report found that setting up common data standards – including for handling customers, billing for trade waste and tendering waste contracts – would save an authority on average between £115,000 and £215,000 a year.

Savings would be made, for example, by avoiding the need for manually keying in data or having to ring up colleagues for information.

The report said re-keying information was “often a hidden cost”, and that studies show 54% of data transferred from online forms to the back office was re-keyed.

It also highlighted the Surrey Waste Partnership (SWP) as an effective example of joined-up data sharing.

Before the partnership was set up, the 11 individual authorities spent up to 4,000 hours of staff time a year on waste reporting at a cost of £75,000 a year. But a new waste data management system is expected to save SWP around £135,000 during the first four years.

The estimates are a downward revision of an earlier draft, which erroneously assumed that all 353 English councils responsible for waste collection and management outsourced their services. In fact, only around half of them use outsourcing.

Lee Marshall, chief executive of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, told MRW it would be difficult to quantify how effective common data standards would be.

“There is obviously the potential to make savings, but it needs suppliers as well as councils to engage and put time and money into the project,” he added.

“It will be interesting to see if this project can make it to implementation stage and what level of savings start to be achieved.”

A recent investigation by public sector IT professionals found that most councils are failing to help residents report missed bin collections by mobile phone.

The latest Better Connected survey from the IT membership body Socitm concluded that only 41% of councils provided a satisfactory service for people wanting to report missed collections.

A common complaint from the survey was that council websites often required residents to sign up for customer accounts before they could report missed bins online.

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