Robin Barber, Product Owner of Built Environment at Arcus Global
At first glance, the idea of land charges doesn’t conjure the most exciting of images to mind. Often the service is tucked away in the back office somewhere, only dealt with when necessary. I don’t think that, in the two decades I’ve spent responding to tenders, that I’ve seen a tender for a land charges solution that includes planning and building control. Normally the land charge staff are the last to see a solution during a demonstration at the end of a long day. Maybe land charges is the underappreciated ‘Cinderella’ of public services.
However, I firmly believe that land charges can play a huge part in our recovering economy and improving local services – implementing digital solutions has the ability to bridge the gap between councils and land charge teams to allow for increased collaboration.
Taking advantage of the masters of data
In my view, land charge services tend to be the master of data collection and collaboration. Their teams aren’t driven by KPIs and politics, but by accuracy and customer service. To them, it matters if something isn’t plotted properly. The ‘that’s good enough’ approach taken when capturing the red line of a planning application just isn’t acceptable to them. They aren’t afraid to think differently about things, which is exactly what the public sector needs right now. The way local areas are managed is changing, and we need creative solutions to address the new challenges that we face, from accessibility to a renewed drive for remote access and joined up systems.
Councils need to integrate cloud solutions and other software packages with their services to get the best out of the way land charges work for them. Long gone are the days of sending coloured pieces of paper around the authority or sending a fax to country highways. Instead, in the digital age, we now need our systems to talk to each other.
Cost is often cited as a barrier to making these changes, but it shouldn’t be. It is in everyone’s interest to automate the land charge process and over a longer period of time reduce the cost, so even in a time of constrained budgets and changing priorities, this shouldn’t be the highest hurdle to overcome. Especially now, when even central government is recognising the need for digital solutions in every corner of the public sector.
Land charges can be used to boost the economy
Long gone are the days of land charges being a cash cow, or the ‘goose that laid the golden egg’, but the suppliers of digital solutions can still increase market share in this area. There is an opportunity for selected suppliers to work in tandem with councils and this combined effort will play a part in kick-starting the economy.
With the government’s recent announcement regarding scrapping stamp duty, the property market has already seen an increase in offers. This will, in turn, see an increase in the number of land charge searches being requested. Anyone who has ever dealt with buying a house will tell you the normal response from the solicitor’s end, is that they are waiting for the searches to come back. Using a digital solution, solicitors may submit their services directly to the local authority, and they can choose how they pay for requests and even track progress online. It allows the circumvention of the charges levied by other routes and ensures that the services are tailored to a local level. If the pandemic has proved anything, it’s that councils know their local areas best, and services must be tailored to an area’s individual needs.
Don’t be afraid to be different
Land charges officers aren’t afraid to think differently about things. If a builder is using both the council’s planning service and the council’s building control service, then they should be using the council local land charge service too.
Generally speaking the search responses on a new housing estate will be the same across the site and teams can just copy the information from one plot to another. Thinking creatively, suppliers could be looking to offer bulk buys on housing sites. For example, they may be able to do this at a reduced price on the basis that they will be doing the searches, speeding up the process, and the developer can offer the search inclusive with buying the house. While it’s not a deal-breaker, it would remove the ‘we’re waiting for the searches’ delay in the process. These things may seem small, but it’s the myriad of small improvements that will simplify a process that can sometimes be kept at arms’ length when it comes to service improvement.
So next time that councils look to buy a replacement solution, they shouldn’t just ‘think’ about inviting land charges along. Make them part of the project board, value their opinion, and look at getting the supplier to show you the benefits of their solution.
About Arcus Global
Arcus Global, formed in 2009 and based in Cambridge UK, is a market leading GovTech cloud company, delivering mission critical technology solutions that enable local authorities and other public sector organisations to transform their service delivery to citizens.
The Software as a Service division of Arcus has developed a platform based suite of Applications for Local Government. Addressing the challenge of legacy technology in Citizen Digital interaction, Planning, Building Control, Licensing, Environmental Health. Arcus has grown to over 30 customers including Folkestone & Hythe District Council, Eastleigh Borough Council and the London Borough of Southwark.
The Cloud Infrastructure Division of Arcus provides Consultancy, Managed Services and Cloud Storage to a large number of Public Sector bodies across Central Government, Local Government, the NHS and the Education sector.
Kate Warboys, Marketing Manager at Arcus Global