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Swindon Council takes innovative approach to free school meals demand surge

Swindon Borough Council has taken an ‘innovative approach’ to ensure local schoolchildren have access free school meals.

Applications for free school meals have risen more than 2000% since March compared to 2019 figures following the impact of Covid-19.

The team utilised Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology to enable ‘instantaneous’ communication between the council and the Department of Education.

Synchronisation in data between systems has created benefits including providing parents with confirmation of eligibility at speed, safeguarding sensitive information and reducing the opportunity for error.

The ‘innovative approach’ has enabled Swindon Borough Council to successfully manage the issue and reduce turnaround time for parents and carers by 66%.

Emerging Technologies lead, Sarah Talbot said, “We are delighted with the success of this project and the positive impact it has made in such a socially valuable area. The past few months have been incredibly difficult for many families and through embracing new technology we have been able to make a genuine difference to real lives and outcomes.

“The project was successfully delivered in just two months by a very small team and at the height of a global pandemic. We’re incredibly proud of what we have been able to achieve so far on behalf of residents in our region, instilling new ways of thinking and pushing forward with innovation to deliver the best service possible.”

The project is one of a number being tested and developed by Swindon Borough Council that utilises new technologies to drive forward positive change.

The Swindon team and NDL, a UK SME that specialises in 'transformational' technology with social purpose, together built a Free School Meals automated digital process. NDL works with a community of public sector organisations that share best practice and innovation, so that similar challenges across the country can be overcome more easily.

Tom Wright, head of digital engagement at NDL, added, “Sarah and the team at Swindon Borough Council have been incredibly proactive in their approach, using innovation to meet the pressures associated with the pandemic.

'A digital-first approach has enabled them to adapt quickly in a crisis and ensure applications are handled with precision and at speed, making a meaningful difference to the lives of families that would otherwise have faced potentially significant delays accessing support in a time of need.

'This same situation is also being faced by the 150 other Local Authorities across the country, and we hope that they will find the learnings in Swindon useful as they consider their strategy moving forward.”