A discovery project on the use of the GOV.UK Pay platform in local government has prompted a call for it to be further developed alongside an income management system (IMS) developed by Barnsley Council.
Led by North East Lincolnshire Council as part of the Local Digital Fund programme – backed by the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government – it has identified a need among councils for an improved IMS to support the use of the payments platform.
GOV.UK Pay was developed by the Government Digital Service (GDS) and so far has been used mainly in central government, although the report on the project says that by late April 32 councils had taken it up for use in one to five services.
This leads it to identify the potential for an alpha project to harness the Barnsley system alongside Pay as a step towards encouraging take-up of the latter.
The discovery project involved talking to local government officials, systems mapping the money flows in councils and gathering information on existing e-payment systems. It identified significant promise in taking up Pay, with advantages in the design of its payment screen, the financial savings in using a common platform, the provision of real time data, a reduction in the time spent on payment reconciliations and other factors.
Among the broad benefits identified is that, if all 416 councils moved to the platform, it would save the sector £6 million a year within five years in vendor licensing costs. Transaction costs could also be reduced.
But the costs of change would vary between councils and some would need additional functions on GOV.UK Pay or need to implement additional products to make it work for them. Among the user needs highlighted in the research are to make reporting and reconciliation easier, accept multiple payment types, and make it easier to use the platform with systems from existing suppliers.
The report suggests Barnsley Council’s in-house development of an IMS system could go some way to dealing with these issues. This has been developed on the Microsoft Dot Net and Entity Frameworks with SQL Server and loosely coupled with Barclaycard APIs. According to a blogpost by Barnsley’s IT manager Richard Kingston it can be easily connected to other payment providers.
Potential to share
The council has expressed an interest in sharing its development with other local authorities, possibly through publishing open source code on GitHub or running it as a software-as-a-service offer. The report says there is scope for GDS to work with Barnsley’s team on a possible integration with Pay to meet councils’ requirements for an easy reconciliation of payments.
It also provides a string of other recommendations, including:
making it easier for local authorities to use Pay with existing suppliers;
improving understanding of why it is beneficial for local teams;
sharing details of alternative IMSs;
helping councils to quantity their costs of financial systems;
adding additional payment channels to Pay.
The report concludes: “We have found economic, sector and user benefits to local authorities using GOV.UK Pay. Some of these benefits apply to a single service; some are realised only when a local authority moves all of its services to GOV.UK Pay.”
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0