As part of its rapid response to support the city’s economy through the considerable impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Birmingham City Council has successfully implemented a bespoke solution to enable eligible small local businesses to claim financial support to help protect them from insolvency.
In March 2020, the government announced the provision of financial support for small businesses and businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. The government also set a very challenging timescale to pay grants as quickly as possible to support struggling small businesses.
Birmingham City Council received government funding of over £231m to deliver financial support to approximately 19,000 eligible small businesses impacted by COVID-19 across the city. On 2 April a project team was mobilised to develop and implement a solution for two business grant schemes, using several data sources, and a range of both technical and manual processes.
As the council’s usual business support involves collecting payments rather than paying out grant funding, this added further complexity to the technical and logistical challenge to rapidly develop a new solution. The challenge was further compounded by the fact that the project required a range of different skills, with staff from a number of teams across the council, many collaborating for the first time and all working remotely due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
Despite these challenges, by 6 April the council was able to process payments that initially focussed on businesses for which the relevant data already existed on record. The process then moved to paying businesses that had supplied their details via an online form.
The rapid deployment of the bespoke solution has involved the development of an online form, new website content, a communications campaign, an analytics dashboard, an automated AI based email merge process and the introduction of a messaging function linked to the national GOvNotify SMS process. Automating the pre-checking process as much as possible has also enabled a faster payment process.
In just over a month, the processes, technology, training and payments were all implemented in a ‘virtual’ project team environment, with payment processing to date exceeding £160 million to over 13,000 local businesses.
To maximise take up, over 2,700 outbound calls to date have been made by contact centre and business rates staff to potentially eligible businesses. These have generally been cases where no contact has been received and where information has not been sufficient to enable the grant to be paid. In addition to this direct contact, an awareness campaign has covered a number of communications, included a message of reassurance that as businesses across Birmingham contribute hugely to the city, the council continues working to ensure they all get the support they need.
Building on the success of the initial solution, the ongoing collaborative effort is now focussed on implementing a further phase of the project at the beginning of June. This phase will provide Discretionary Grant payments to further support eligible small businesses across the city that have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Acknowledging the success of the project, Tim Savill, Assistant Director for the council’s Revenues and Benefits Service said:
“This has been a huge collective effort by the whole Revenues Team, working in partnership with others across the council. Over 13,000 businesses across the city have received valuable support which will help to protect their future as well as retaining much needed employment. The logistical challenge has been huge given the large numbers of businesses to support. A feature of our approach included use of third-party data and our internal data warehouse to ensure that payments went to those who are genuinely entitled to the grants.”
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