Last year, in a bid to streamline local government and reduce the number of regulations, the Australian Federal Government set aside A$50 million. One of the first states to buy into the plan was New South Wales, which won A$6.2 million and was given just 12 months to implement a set of standard forms for local government.
It’s known as the NSW Councils Red Tape Blueprints Project and involves 41 local bodies.
Some of the early results have been outstanding. In a recent Adobe-hosted presentation — Adobe was the chosen technology — programme director Allison Honery gave two examples of indicative savings generated by councils. One had turnover of A$50 million and would stand to benefit by A$2.2 million a year in handling and processing costs; another, with turnover of A$20 million, would save A$900,000 a year.
Those are real savings for ratepayers but an incidental benefit, because the project is targeted at small businesses which may have to deal with several local authorities. The idea was to make it easier for these businesses. The councils have collaborated to deliver what are known as SmartForms, which are easier to understand and largely standardised.
Honery noted that, previously, there was a more than 40% error rate in filling in forms, with a subsequent huge elapsed time in getting approvals.
Priority was given to some forms. For example, in one case 13 forms were merged into a single two-page form; over all, 47 forms were merged into 22.
The project prototyped three forms for feedback from users and councils, then developed a full suite within four months.
Honery says councils can customise 15%-20% of the forms. All are available as PDFs, so third parties such as lawyers or accountants can work on their part off-line.
A business can apply for a consent, pay and receive a receipt in a single transaction.
A central form centre has been set up as a management service where customer information can be generated from a file on the fly. There is some trialling on mobile devices for items such as building permits.
“We’re now scoping how we will integrate this into council corporate systems,” Honery says.
There are 152 local authorities in NSW so there is some way to go but there has been enough buy-in to prove the value of the concept.
Buy-in is something local authorities in New Zealand seem keen to avoid. Five months ago, Local Government Online produced an ASP model of standardised forms, with minimal charging.
To date, 19 basic forms have been produced, developed in .Net and hosted by Ubiquity, in Auckland. A new form can be generated in just two hours.
But just two councils have bought into the project.
“We’re trying to figure out why councils are not signing up,” says project manager Jennifer Northover. “We’ve had a meeting with Local Government New Zealand and it seems we will have to target CEOs as a strategic issue.
“We’ve spent three years developing this and we’ve had no complaints.”
Local Government Online, which has turnover of just $600,000, spent a “few tens of thousands” of dollars developing what it calls its GoForms suite.
It’s a salutary lesson. Technical people love to look at technical things but if a developer or vendor wants commitment to an idea or product, the business has to be sold on it.