A research project into ways to enhance public safety by tackling complexity and risk in taxi licensing applications has highlighted a significant need for a smarter digital solution to a ‘time-consuming, out-dated process’.

Recent high-profile cases and police operations around sexual exploitation have highlighted the need to enhance public safety by improving and underpinning taxi licensing services.

This initial digital discovery project has highlighted measurable, end-to-end benefits in both efficiency and cash savings, communication and customer service.

Funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) through the Local Digital Fund, the project involved three local councils in the North of England with Gateshead leading the study, partnered by Northumberland and Sunderland councils.

Working on behalf of Gateshead Council, service design agency Orange Bus, part of Capita, carried out a digital discovery project to research how to build scalable services to best meet the needs of citizens nationally, challenge the technology market, protect privacy and security, and deliver better value for money.

Craig Priestman, UX designer at Orange Bus, said: “This is a complex area that has previously been tackled by various local authorities in other parts of the UK without significant advances on a national scale. Taking a service design approach is all about getting out there into the real world, with real users in the real environment. It’s about staying true to ethical design and how organisations can better serve their citizens.

“This discovery project is very much in the national interest so it was important to understand differences, if any, such as geography, demography, market; or other factors within the locality of the partner organisations.

“We know with digital there are often barriers to break down, but we found a strong will and need for digital processes that saves time, money and stress while handling or applying for a taxi licence. The goal is to always to produce stress-free services that work with how people want and need to interact, so all users can successfully embrace them whilst organisations meet their objectives.”

Roger Abbott, Digital Services Manager, Gateshead Council, said: "The upshot of this is, public safety is paramount. Orange Bus were tasked with researching the current user journeys with a view to improving efficiency, and allowing for quicker decision making and easier sharing of information between authorities."

“The ambition is, digital improvement will reduce the amount of time licensing staff spend on administrative activities, thereby freeing up their time to spend on proactive enforcement activity, further enhancing the already high standards of public safety.” Roger Abbott, Digital Services Manager at Gateshead Council

Findings show delivering the licence service is time consuming for users and staff, involving paper-based applications, face-to-face appointments and repeated visits to council premises.

Research also showed multiple parts of the application journey need to be standardised to create a uniformed solution. These include stages in the process, language used, requirements from applicants, employee responsibilities, and rules and regulations.

Further research is needed to determine the scope of the required new service - such as how it will measure success, what would a successful service look like, as well as how impairments might affect users and whether some need assisted support.

The extra research will examine the ‘new driver’ application process - an apt spearhead for improving the service as a whole and leading the way for scaling a standardised, national solution.

It will also increase understanding of the needs and opportunities of third parties, such as Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) course providers and the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

Mr Abbott concluded: “This project has been an excellent upskilling opportunity for Gateshead Council as we have gained hands-on experience of agile service design and techniques. The team members have learnt far more from working with Orange Bus on a live project than could ever have been achieved from a traditional training course. The project has been delivered at considerable pace but we always felt included and informed through the delivery of workshops, ‘show and tell’ sessions and other agile tools.”

Full details of the methodology, findings and research from the project are freely available on the Digital Gateshead website for anyone wishing to compare how the service is and could be delivered in their councils.

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