Local authorities can make people’s lives better and improve their own operations by using the unique property reference number, writes Gayle Gander, head of marketing at GeoPlace
There is nothing geeky about the subject of data in local government. It is one of the prime assets of local authorities, and provides a tremendous potential for better outcomes in so many areas of their operations.
Pulling data together from different sources provides a foundation for better targeted and more effective services that can make a positive difference to people’s lives. It can save staff time in the back office and on the frontline. And it can provide insights to improve an authority’s understanding of social and demographic problems and make financial gains by reducing fraud and error.
But data is often fragmented, held in silos around the organisation, with inconsistencies and inaccuracies that severely undermine the potential. It needs to be more strongly connected and standardised to provide better outcomes, and that requires a ‘glue’ to give it more coherence.
The starting point is location, the common denominator for most council services. This is where the unique property reference number (UPRN) becomes a major asset for local authorities, providing that glue for them to begin extracting the full value in their data.
It is a unique identifier for every addressable location in Great Britain, created by local authorities, held in their local land and property street gazetteers, and managed nationally by GeoPlace, a joint venture between Ordnance Survey and the Local Government Association. Along with the unique street reference number (USRN), it can be used as the connection point for data on people and places, around which information from all the other sources can be pulled together to provide a coherent view.
But the potential is not yet widely fulfilled: UPRNs and USRNs are providing great benefits for some councils, but are underused on a national scale. In too many authorities they are seen as a matter for the property and street data specialists, without an appreciation of the pivotal role they can play in improving services.
Councils are letting themselves down with this, and need to look at the lessons from those that have demonstrated the success of the identifiers.
Brighton & Hove City Council provides a prime example. It has used its UPRNs as a core element in the creation of its customer index, linking personal and location data in a new customer reference index number (CIRN). This brings all of the relevant data for an individual into one place – in contrast to being fragmented between the systems of 34 separate departments.
The move required work on identifying and resolving disparities between data fields of the different systems, and the UPRN, used in many of those systems, provided the reference point to make this possible. It gave the council a more coherent view of better quality data, and this is providing the basis for improvements that will be noticed throughout the organisation.
These include: the creation of a new customer portal that provides personalised information on local services; a fall in the number of customer complaints; reductions in the time staff spend on processing data, leading to annual savings of up to £400,000; better communications between departments that can now access the same data; and savings of around £10 million through using the data in fraud detection and prevention.
Brighton’s experience shows that there is a lot more to UPRNs than dealing with intricacies of data management: they can help to deliver clear financial benefits for authorities and improve their interactions with the public. And as more uses are found in data analysis they will make a big contribution to targeting resources and strategic planning.
They have also won the support of the innovation foundation Nesta, whose director of government Eddie Copeland told the recent GeoPlace conference that authorities should increase their use of UPRNs to support data matching and sharing, and that this can lead to better outcomes.
GeoPlace is currently developing a range of resources that prove the value of the identifiers, with a description of the ‘golden thread’ from the UPRN and more case studies to come.
It is also pointing to the potential in dealing with specific issues, such as the Troubled Families initiative. A UPRN could provide the link for different datasets, even from two or more councils, to produce a database providing a more detailed picture of families who need support. Social care and other officers could use this to identify problems as they arise and take measures to prevent them getting out of hand.
But it needs a broader effort from the whole community, not just the location data specialists in local authorities, but those directors, project and service managers who have experience of how UPRNs and USRNs can be used to produced better outcomes. They need to begin sharing their experience and ideas with their colleagues and counterparts in other authorities, helping to raise awareness of the potential across the local government landscape.
It is time to stir up a national conversation of the issue.
You can learn about the potential for UPRNs by downloading our information leaflet, Connecting Data for Better Outcomes
Image by justgrimes, CC BY 2.0 through flickr