Are You Data Efficient?

Will French, senior consultant at Resource Futures, says at a time of local authority budget constraints, work has become increasingly focussed on waste collection efficiency. He outlines some of the key issues and highlights the importance of making the most of your data…

Local authorities are under continuing pressure to realise financial savings across their waste services. This is certainly not new news. Even as I write this article the BBC is reporting further cuts across services despite most local authorities in England (and potentially Scotland) planning to raise council tax in 2017. It is therefore not surprising that as an independent environmental consultancy, we have seen an increase in requests to identify financial savings in waste collection services whilst also maintaining or improving existing service performance, often measured by overall recycling rate. This can be challenging to achieve; however, the good news is that there are opportunities. We have added insight and value for our customers through our services on the following issues in the past 12 months:

  • Will tightening of waste policy such as additional residual containment entitlement or presentation of containers save money?
  • Are current collection rounds operating efficiently? How much spare capacity is there?
  • Is there a financial benefit to collecting some of the more peripheral materials for recycling?
  • Will introducing food waste collections save money?
  • Should garden waste be collected at the kerbside? What are suitable charges for a subscription service and how many customers will sign up?
  • And finally, the big topic, what impact would the reduction of residual collection frequency to three or four weekly have?

There is not a simple answer as the starting position of each local authority is unique. I can say with confidence that one area often overlooked, yet crucial in deciding where to begin tackling these issues, is the efficiency of data management and movement within local authorities.

As consultants, we have an important role to play here. I’ve always found the best approach is to work closely with the officers to understand: Is that data available? How easy would it be to extract it? Who has responsibility for data, particularly relevant for out-sourced collections? What are the data processes you regularly complete for internal and/or external reporting? It’s all too easy to request data, model efficiencies and report back without taking a step back to understand how many local authority officer hours are spent each month to mould data into meaningful outputs.

Having worked with local authorities across the UK the starting point for data management varies considerably. Some may manage data via an all-encompassing cloud based solution whilst others are using multiple software applications to extract and analyse performance and financial data manually.

As a sector, we are not graced with a single guidance document or model that will extract raw data to produce meaningful analysis for performance and budgeting purposes. Each authority is unique and therefore the data requirements are also unique, often developing over time as services change. However, we are working with customers to provide solutions that deliver efficiency gains without significant investment by reducing the quantity of ‘manual’ movement and checking of waste data between reporting procedures.

I have posed a lot of questions in this piece. I would like to finish with one final question. Are you spending too much time and money managing your data?


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