Childcare providers in Scotland have had to make significant adjustments to the way they operate as a result of COVID-19.
In the immediate period from March 2020, when the collective impact of COVID-19 was felt globally, childcare services in Scotland were closed unless they were delivering to children of key worker families, or to vulnerable children. Since then, childcare providers have been subject to two periods of restrictions.
In June 2020, the Scottish Government published public health guidance to support the reopening of day care of children services.
However, meeting this guidance incurred significant additional costs for day care of children services as they adapted their operations and their premises. To help providers meet these costs, the Scottish Government made £11.2 million available through the Transitional Support Fund to provide one-off grants. This Fund was open for applications between September and October 2020.
This effort was led by the Improvement Service (IS), an organization that has been working closely with the Scottish Government throughout the period of COVID-19 restrictions to support businesses providing day care of children services.
Simple and secure
The Improvement Service was set up to deliver support to Scotland’s councils, helping them provide effective community leadership and strong local governance as well as to deliver high quality, efficient local services.
Its bisaccount.scot platform, which allows businesses to connect to online public services, provided the platform for all of the country’s local authorities to administer and manage the fund for childcare providers within their boundaries.
Childcare providers could simply and securely set up an account and apply for the fund and were updated by email notification throughout the process. Local authority staff, meanwhile, gained visibility of the whole application and any accompanying documents.
While bisaccount.scot was an existing service, this new functionality needed to be configured and tested – and given the pressures of a fast-moving global pandemic, time was of the essence.
Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which has been working with the Improvement Service since 2013, helped the IS redevelop the bisaccount.scot platform to meet the requirements of the application process and turn around the project as quickly as possible using TCS DigiGOVTM framework.
The Transitional Support Fund was launched in less than 28 days, and nearly 1,600 grants were issued in the period it was available.
“We’ve been able to mobilise quickly to support the Scottish Government in delivering funding in a way that’s streamlined and straightforward for local authorities,” Andy Campbell, Business and Delivery Strategic Lead at the Improvement Service, says. “By doing some of the heavy lifting on this project, we helped childcare businesses obtain vital financial support quickly and easily.”
There are obvious benefits to digitalisation during a pandemic, in which physical touchpoints need to be reduced. For local government, COVID-19 has moved the dial on digital public services from optional to essential.
But the benefits of such transformations are likely to live on much longer than the current crisis. In fact, it has accelerated existing trends according to Martin Mulholland, Business Development Director at TCS.
“Government is undergoing some major digital strategy improvements,” he says. “Part of this is the concept of a 20-minute neighbourhood – the idea is that you can easily access the public services you need within a 20-minute radius of where you live.”
He added that TCS has been working with the Improvement Service to identify areas of future digitalisation. “These are exciting opportunities. Our chief technology officer and some of our futurologists have joined workshops to look for iterative changes to public services. They’re asking, what are we doing now? And how can we redesign those processes? We’ve been helping them map their horizons and look at other areas where we can collaborate.”
Today, as the COVID-19 situation in Scotland evolves, so too does the government’s response. In December 2020, when amid rising case numbers the country was locked down again, the Improvement Service was involved with another round of funding for childcare providers, this time called the Temporary Restrictions Fund.
Thanks to the flexibility of its platform, the organisation was again able to respond rapidly to help childcare providers access the support they needed.
It’s this real-world impact that determines the ultimate success of projects like this, as Mulholland concludes: “It’s easy to see the benefits – people who might be having a hard time as a result of the pandemic are getting the support they need. And that makes me truly happy about our work.”