SOCITM (Society of Information Technology Management)
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Flexible and remote working: how is Liverpool City Council managing during the Covid-19 crisis?

Socitm’s Improve annual report 2020 was published on 6 May. A highlight was the rise in public sector users equipped to work flexibly rose from 39.7% to 75.1%.

messy desk with a monitor and keyboard

Alison Hughes is a Socitm Vice President and Assistant Director for ICT, Digital and Customer at Liverpool City Council. She describes the council’s digital programme, its challenges and successes and how they are working to a background of Covid-19

Where was Liverpool on its agile and remote working journey ahead of this crisis?

Liverpool had in place an ambitious, digital first transformation programme, with a strong focus on using Office 365 and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology to support agile working. We were also in the process of shifting more of our services online. Our website acts as our virtual front door, with a balance between effective, accessible online services for residents and interesting, engaging news for the annual 67.3m visitors.

When the crisis hit, our ICT service was two thirds of the way through a programme to implement VDI. The project dovetailed with a corporate programme aimed at increasing agile working and reducing the number of buildings we occupy. A plan was in place to begin relocating staff to modern office space, with access to agile desktops and technology. The team was also preparing to roll out Office 365, with Skype for Business still in use pending this.

Training and ongoing support

Our staff were at different levels of understanding when it came to agile/flexible/home working. A significant amount was being done to provide guidance, advice, support and training to them, and to managers, to embrace new ways of working.

As might be expected, there were still some elements of council services which required face to face contact with customers, and we were looking at these as part of a digital redesign programme. In March, we purchased a new contact centre telephony solution, with options to improve agile working capability, customer experience and introduce lots of new features, with a view to implementing this over the next few months.

How has technology helped you to approach this crisis?

As soon as it became clear how it was going to become, particularly in the two to three weeks before the lockdown, work began on a solution to support our workforce.

  • Temporary remote access
    Our ICT service set up a temporary remote access solution, enabling 1500+ staff to securely access our network remotely every day from personal devices and to do all of the work they needed to do from home. This was set up very quickly and at a very low cost. I am extremely proud of my team for responding so fast, and so effectively, under such pressure. The rest of our workforce – around 2,500 – are accessing the network via council laptops. We were successful in securing and deploying an additional 350 devices for priority one staff in the first two weeks of the crisis. This was no mean feat, given the competition for resources at the time.
  • Contact centre staff working from home
    Our 90+ contact centre staff are now delivering a service from home, using a range of technology. The service is as good as it ever has been in terms of performance. We have also enabled 60+ face to face customer staff (from One Stop Shops) to work from home, receiving and making calls to residents who have requested food deliveries and other support. They are able to support the contact centre team and also back office functions – such as Blue Badges, parking permits, and processing documents relating to Revenues and Benefits and business support grants. This has been a challenge in terms of sourcing the equipment, given the level of demand for this both nationally and internationally and the timescales for delivery. All the efforts have been worth it and the team has had wonderful feedback from residents about the support they have received from staff at this frightening time.
  • Digital team
    Our Digital Team has faced a constant challenge in ensuring that our website is kept up to date with accurate information for residents. They have set up web forms and created processes for completely new service requirements at very short notice and worked with suppliers to implement a new system to manage requests for Covid-19 support from residents, working with staff and volunteers.

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