Following the large-scale reductions in bus services and revenue experienced during the national lockdown that began in March 2020, the Department for Transport (DfT) announced the Covid-19 Bus Service Support Grant (CBSSG) to ensure bus services continued to operate.
With reductions in vehicle capacities being made to keep passengers safe, in May of 2020, funding of £254 million was announced in order to increase capacity on buses by returning service levels to as near 100% as possible, while preparing for an economic recovery.
This funding formed the basis of the CBSSG Restart Package, replacing the Support Grant announced in March 2020.
The challenge was to deliver a digital system for the CBSSG to bring greater automation and efficiency to the grant handling process. This aimed to bring enhanced and streamlined support to the bus sector in England through the Covid recovery period and beyond.
Our solution was to build an integrated grant system which enhances functionality for the internal operations teams to allow for a more robust delivery of the grant funding.
To do this, the following was completed:
- We deployed a multi-disciplinary team (Delivery Manager, Quality Analyst, User Researcher, Business Analyst, Service Designer, Senior Developers, and DevOps) at pace (within 5 days).
- As part of a rapid Discovery, our User Researcher identified pain-points of existing processes for claims and aligned them with recommendations from bus operators.
- The Service Designer delivered a service blueprint, visualising the service to the stakeholders, iterating with user research at pace.
- Senior Developers, DevOps and QA worked together as a team alongside DfT permanent team members – as one team, to deliver a multi-tier service (frontend and backend), utilising our experiences of working inline with the GDS Technology Code of Practice. The Senior Architects on the team designed and architected the application code to easily add new features, and be adaptable to change.
- QA processes enabled features to be deployed at speed, reducing impact on any failures, bugs, or issues. This was also integrated with a CI/CD pipeline that was rapidly integrated into an environment on Google Cloud Platform.
- Aligning transparency and assurances using internal Governance processes, and conducting regular GDS reviews in order to deploy at speed.
- The deployment of a new digital system to support the inputting, collection, review, validation, storage and processing of information related to the CBSSG for the monthly claim element of the scheme and its processing for commercial CBSSG. The first iteration was deployed within 2 months, with a GOV.UK page via https://www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-the-covid-19-bus-service-support-grant.
- The confirmation number and screen have also been a step forward in the claims progress which allows operators to have a great understanding of the submission and receipt.
- We passed WCAG 2.1 AAA accessibility standards (normally AA), pen testing and GDS assessments at first attempt.
- The project had been put in a position and for some months had been able to release a substantial amount of time for our statisticians, as the Smart Survey generation and perhaps more importantly data collection and input was removed, i.e. a more efficient process was achieved.
- As part of our latest audit from GIAA (Government Internal Audit Agency), DfT was able to flag that we had deployed an initial grant management to run the scheme and to help to tick key boxes, such as segregation of duties through the system design.
- Internal stakeholders developed a resource plan for case officers which eventually saw a reduction over the summer (over 50% personnel) in recognition of the improvements that we have seen in processing times.
- The system increased data validity and internal users saw benefits of cleaner data resulting in less queries needing to be raised, faster processing times, etc.
- The web survey was well received by the industry and we noted substantial gains in terms of industry taking less time to complete the surveys, faster responses through tools like the bulk upload, and being able to download the data submitted in a suitable format. These elements were a direct contributing factor in the team reducing the claims processing time down to close to our SLA of 4 weeks from claim to payment. This was a massive step forward with the sector and DfT stakeholder relationships.
- We have also had the opportunity to employ multi-agency working (DfT/ Contractors/DVSA (Driving Standards Vehicle Agency)/OTC (Office of the Traffic Commissioner)) in the development of the API (Application Programming Interface) for key data which will read across to other projects – BODS (Bus Open Data Service) – and other systems – BSOG (Bus Service Operators Grant).