Agenda item

Digital Strategy progress and outcomes for vulnerable people

This report provides an update on the progress of the Brent Digital Strategy from its launch in June 2017 to date. It includes details of key projects and workstreams related to channel shift and the initiatives designed to support vulnerable residents, as well as wider work within delivery of the strategy to secure positive outcomes for vulnerable people.


The Chair informed the meeting that the committee had recently undertaken a visit to the Harlesden Hub, during which members had had the opportunity to learn about how the council was supporting vulnerable residents. At the invitation of the Chair, Councillor McLennan (Deputy Leader) advised that Sadie East (Head of Transformation) and Peter Gadsdon (Director Performance Policy & Partnerships) were in attendance to introduce the report and assist in addressing members queries.


Sadie East presented the report on the progress of the Brent Digital Strategy from its launch in June 2017. The report provided details of key projects and workstreams related to channel shift and the initiatives designed to support vulnerable residents, as well as the wider work within the delivery of the strategy to secure positive outcomes for vulnerable people. Sadie East provided a brief overview of these key workstreams, noting the initial successes of the roll out of the Microsoft Dynamics Platform to the Housing Management Service which had already resulted in improvements in customer service and quality of response. Work to support residents’ to improve their digital skills had included the impending launch of a digital skills curriculum by Brent Start (Brent’s Adult Education service) and the introduction of cutting edge technology to a classroom of the Stonebridge Learning Centre. Progress had been made in securing ultrafast fibre broadband for Brent’s social housing stock and more widely for residents and business in the borough. By 2020 new broadband networks were anticipated to provide coverage to up to 80% of the borough. The committee further heard that a report recommending approval to expand the hub model was due to considered by Cabinet at its meeting on 12 September 2018.


The Chair thanked Sadie East for the introduction and invited questions from the committee. Members sought details of how success was measured with regard to supporting residents’ digital skills, including whether a one-off lesson could be offered for those engaging with a service digitally for the first time. The committee also questioned whether the council could enhance the profile of the My Brent service to encourage greater take up. Questions were raised regarding how support was provided for those who either did not have internet access or were not in the habit of using it, how the council identified users requiring special assistance and how this information was deployed across the organisation. A member questioned why council officers working at the Harlesden Hub did not access the library’s free wi-fi. Further queries were raised regarding the Client Index, its current use in the council and whether it could support targeted roll-out of the council’s digital offer. In concluding their questioning, members expressed that they had been very impressed with the Harlesden Hub and asked officers to reflect on any pitfalls that may have been identified and resolved via the pilot.


Responding to members’ queries, Sadie East drew the committee’s attention to the draft outcomes framework  attached at Appendix E to the report. This outlined the key objectives around modernising online channels and supporting residents to access online services  and included proposed measures and baselines. Members further heard that officers were exploring the use of the Microsoft Dynamics platform to better capture the interactions at the Harlesden Hub. Officers welcomed members’ suggestions on the promotion of the My Brent service and the provision of one-off skills sessions to those accessing services digitally for the first time and agreed to take these forward. Matthew Dibben (Head of Employment Skills and Enterprise) confirmed that the latter could be provided as part of the expanded digital skills programme due to be launched by Brent Start in the next few weeks.


Addressing the committee’s queries regarding residents who either could not use the internet or were not in the habit of doing so, Sadie East confirmed that visitors to the Harlesden Hub had included people who were digitally excluded and added that word of mouth advertising of the support available at the Hub had been successful in reaching some people from this cohort. Peter Gadsdon advised that Lewisham Council had recently obtained funding to buy iPads to loan to residents to help them become confident with the technology. If successful, consideration could be given to the provision of a similar facility at Brent’s libraries. It was further emphasised that the agreement recently made by the council with two providers to deliver affordable ultrafast broadband connections to Brent’s housing stock included the delivery of digital inclusion activities for key groups. Peter Gadsdon clarified that it was anticipated that residents benefiting from this new infrastructure would be able to access a reasonable package for approximately £5 per month which would, for instance, be sufficient for streaming services. With regard to residents that might require additional assistance, officers were exploring whether the Microsoft Dynamics system could be used to flag records where additional needs had been identified. With the instigation of the EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), the council had been required to revise all of the privacy notices provided at the point of gathering an individual’s data: these now stated that information would be shared across the council’s systems.  


With regard to officers at the Harlesden Hub using Wi-fi, Peter Gadsdon explained that as the Hub was a pilot, the council had not invested too much in its set up. However, as part of the council’s changing methodology regarding the delivery of services, the council would be replacing the current thin client access and remote working options for council staff, with laptops with a direct connection to the council’s network.


A brief overview was provided to the committee of the council’s Client Index. Peter Gadsdon advised that this was a master data management system which pulled data from a number of council systems and data matched the records. The Client Index was still extensively used for a range of functions including fraud detection. A recent upgrade of the Client Index had delivered a new facility, Business Process Manager. It was possible to use the Client Index to provide a targeted communication regarding the council’s digital offer. The Microsoft Dynamics system currently being built would eventually make the Client Index redundant.


Reflecting on the Harlesden Hub pilot, Peter Gadsdon confirmed that the most difficult part of the project had been building the relationships with the various voluntary sector partners to ensure that the offer provided was localised. Repeating this process for each roll-out area was essential, as it was this crafting of the offer that underpinned its value for local residents and provided momentum to the project. Sadie East emphasised that the word-of-mouth advertising had been key to the success of the Harlesden Hub pilot. 


The Chair thanked the officers and Lead Member for their contribution to the meeting.





i)     That the Director of Performance, Policy and Partnerships ensure that officers explore ways to incentivise residents to sign up for a My Brent Account;


ii)    That the Director of Performance, Policy and Partnerships ensure that consideration is given to how to assess the success of face-to-face interactions at Harlesden Hub or the Brent Civic Centre supporting residents in acquiring digital skills, including how well those skills are able to be utilised subsequently. The outcome of this process to be feedback to the committee;


iii)   That the Director of Performance, Policy and Partnerships ensure a targeted communication is sent promoting the council’s digital offer to those groups identified as requiring assistance with digital skills;


iv)   That the minutes of the meeting be shared with the Lead Member for Schools, Employment and Skills and Lead Member for Housing and Welfare Reform for comment on the committee’s discussion;


v)    That the Director of Performance, Policy and Partnerships ensure the ICT set up in the Harlesden Hub is reviewed to support access improvements and enable staff quick access to council server.

Supporting documents: