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Dorset Council develops analytics on local cost of living


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Dorset Council has developed a predictive analytics model on the local impact of the cost of living crisis.

Its principal research analyst Peter Jackson described the initiative at the UKAuthority AI and Data4Good conference this week, saying it has been used to liaise with other local groups and businesses in targeting resources to support people through the crisis.

The model has been built on Microsoft Power BI and using data from a number of sources. These include Office of Budget Responsibility figures on inflation and wage inflation, data from Experian on household discretionary income – the amount left after taxation and paying for necessities – and those from government on issues such as benefits payments and the energy price cap.

It has produced a dashboard that is being used to estimate how assumptions about the fuel cap will affect households in Dorset.

Changing projections

Initially, this produced projections that, with energy bills assumed at an annual average of £4,200 for the first quarter of 2023, 77,000 households would be in the red because of the impact on their discretionary income.

When the government came up with the price cap of £2,500 the council remodelled the data and estimated that around 5,000 households would be in the red. Based on an average of four people per household this would affect about 20,000.

Projections later into 2023 shows the number reduced to zero, but rising again in 2024.

“We’ve been building into the model as things change whenever we get more data released by the government,” Jackson said.

The council is also able to drill into the data at a geographic level to identity the areas that would be worst hit, and to show how these could change over time, and has begun to incorporate sentiment analysis from posts on Twitter to build its understanding of the focus of local concerns.

Targeting resources

“We presented the model to our senior leaders in the spring and they immediately saw the issues that could potentially affect our residents,” Jackson said. “So they released the resources to our community engagement team so they could work with the voluntary sector, targeting additional resources working with bodies like social supermarkets, food banks and lunch clubs, to provide help in particular areas.

“We also highlighted the particular impact to our MPs over the summer, during the (Conservative Party) leadership campaign, and they were able to take it back to Westminster.”

Jackson added that at the moment the council feels the model cannot incorporate the potential impact of the government’s recent mini-budget as the details keep changing and it involves assumptions on households that are difficult to gauge. But it is keeping watch and will incorporated any changes when it is deemed possible.

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