London-based council to cut costs, boost digital citizen engagement and increase efficiency by 30% with help of Sungard AS
Sungard Availability Services ® (Sungard AS), a leading provider of information availability through managed IT, cloud and recovery services, today announces that it is working with Enfield Council to help support its “Digital by Default” strategy.
Enfield Council has a strong reputation for technological innovation, and is focused on increasing engagement with all constituents via digital platforms. Its pioneering Artificial Intelligence (AI) contact centre programme can answer citizens’ questions at 60% of the human cost, Enfield is the first council in the country to deploy such technology. To continue its sector leading work, the council needed a strong IT partner that could provide the robust, reliable, and agile IT infrastructure required.
Enfield Council’s current outsourcing agreement was coming to an end and with 320,000 constituents reliant upon the council’s services, constant availability is of vital importance. The council urgently needed a trusted partner that could deliver a flexible and robust solution with zero downtime.
Enfield Council chose Sungard AS to manage the transition and continued running of its complex hybrid IT infrastructure. The move was so successful that, not only was there zero downtime of services, but Enfield Council’s own staff were unaware any transition had taken place. Efficiency and cost-effectiveness were also key factors in the choice of Sungard AS. Government funding cuts meant that the council was under increased pressure to continue its great service at a reduced cost. Sungard AS delivered a pay-as-you-go enterprise cloud solution, meaning the council only pays for the cloud services it needs, allowing it to scale capacity up and down, as required.
The decision to partner with Sungard AS is already forecasted to achieve major cost-savings for the council, as well as over 30% efficiency gains. Sungard AS has further eliminated the IT infrastructure management burden from the council, allowing in-house staff to focus on satisfying the 18 service standard points required by “Digital by Default” status. Enfield Council is now working towards furthering its digital aims, all with the peace of mind that Sungard AS is supporting its critical IT systems.
Steve Durbin, Interim Head of IT, Enfield Council, commented: “Our citizens rely on the council to be there when they need us. We cannot afford even the smallest amount of systems downtime. For example, if there’s no IT service on the day we pay housing benefit, it could mean eviction for some of our citizens. With individuals’ well-being and the council’s efficiency at stake, there really is no room for error. Through partnering with Sungard AS, citizens will always be able to access council services.
“Enfield is a vibrant, multicultural borough where English is not always the first language so being able to access council services via digital platforms, that are available in multiple languages, is essential. Sungard AS provides the robust infrastructure that allows the council to work towards meeting its digital goals, as well as supporting all of our citizens.”
Kathy Schneider, Chief Marketing Officer at Sungard Availability Services continued: “Enfield Council’s case is just one example of the challenges organisations are facing with hybrid IT infrastructure models. It is essential to have inbuilt resilience to maintain robust security and constant availability of services – whether running across digital or legacy IT platforms. Enfield citizens and council staff would settle for nothing less.
“Our recent research found that public sector IT decision makers felt that digital success equates to both increased customer satisfaction (49%) and revenue growth (33%). But with the IT landscape becoming more complex and legacy IT potentially holding back innovation, the road to digital transformation in the public sector isn’t straightforward. Without a datacentre strategy that can support both old and new IT functions, local governments will fail to meet their ‘digital by default’ ambitions. Pairing with a reliable partner means that Enfield can continue to achieve its goals while allowing Sungard AS to shoulder the concerns of core infrastructure management.”
Further information on Sungard AS’ work with Enfield Council can be found here.
OPEC+ to weigh modest oil output boost at meeting – sources
By Ahmad Ghaddar, Alex Lawler and Olesya Astakhova
LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – OPEC+ oil producers will discuss a modest easing of oil supply curbs from April given a recovery in prices, OPEC+ sources said, although some suggest holding steady for now given the risk of new setbacks in the battle against the pandemic.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, cut output by a record 9.7 million bpd last year as demand collapsed due to the pandemic. As of February, it is still withholding 7.125 million bpd, about 7% of world demand.
In January OPEC+ slowed the pace of a planned output increase to match weaker-than-expected demand due to continued coronavirus lockdowns. Saudi Arabia made extra voluntary cuts for February and March.
Three OPEC+ sources said an output increase of 500,000 barrels per day from April looked possible without building up inventories, although updated supply and demand balances that ministers will consider at their March 4 meeting will determine their decision.
“The oil price is definitely high and the market needs more oil to cool the prices down,” one of the OPEC+ sources said. “A 500,000 bpd increase from April is an option – looks like a good one.”
A rally in prices towards $67 a barrel, the highest since January 2020, the rollout of vaccines and economic recovery hopes have boosted confidence the market could take more oil. India, the world’s third biggest oil importer, has urged OPEC+ to ease production cuts.
Saudi Arabia’s voluntary cut of 1 million barrels per day (bpd) ends next month. While Riyadh hasn’t shared its plans beyond March, expectations in the group are growing that Saudi Arabia will bring back the supply from April, perhaps gradually.
Some OPEC+ members also anticipate that the Saudis will be willing to ease cuts further, but it was not clear if they had had direct communication with Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia has warned producers to be “extremely cautious” and some OPEC members are wary of renewed demand setbacks. One OPEC country source said a full return of the Saudi barrels in April would mean the rest of OPEC+ should not pump more yet.
“The Saudi voluntary cut will be back to the market,” the source said. “I’m personally with no more relaxation, not until June.”
Russia, one of the OPEC+ countries which was allowed to boost output in February, is keen to raise supply and a source last week said Moscow would propose adding more oil if nothing changed before the March 4 virtual meeting.
(Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal and Nidhi Verma; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)
UK’s Sunak to build bridge to recovery with more spending
By William Schomberg
LONDON (Reuters) – British finance minister Rishi Sunak will next week promise yet more spending to prop up the economy during what he hopes will be the last phase of lockdown, but he will also probably signal tax rises ahead to plug the huge hole in the public finances.
Sunak, who is due to announce a new budget plan on March 3, has already racked up more than 280 billion pounds ($397 billion) in coronavirus spending and tax cuts, pushing Britain’s borrowing to a peacetime record.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to lift England’s current lockdown entirely only in late June so Sunak is expected to rely heavily on the debt markets again.
His job retention scheme, paying 80% of employees’ wages, will probably be extended beyond a scheduled April 30 expiry date, further inflating its estimated cost of 70 billion pounds. Support for the self-employed looks set to stay too.
Businesses are demanding Sunak keep other lifelines, such as exempting the firms hardest hit by the lockdown from property taxes and giving them a value-added tax cut.
And calls are growing for an extension of a 20 pounds-a-week emergency welfare increase due to expire in April.
The Times newspaper said Sunak would prolong his stamp duty property tax break for three months until the end of June.
Sunak hopes that by then Britain will be emerging from its deep freeze thanks to Europe’s fastest vaccination programme.
Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane likens the economy to a “coiled spring” primed with the savings that households have built up after being stuck at home.
A strong recovery would mean a jump in tax revenues, doing some of the Treasury’s job of fixing the public finances.
Rupert Harrison, an aide to former finance minister George Osborne, said Sunak should not try to slash Britain’s 2.1 trillion-pound debt mountain, equivalent to 98% of GDP – a ratio unthinkable for decades.
Instead he should write new budget rules tied to the cost of debt servicing, which is close to record lows.
“We can safely carry higher levels of debt than before,” Harrison told a webinar organised by Onward, a think-tank.
But the scale of Britain’s borrowing is raising questions about how long Sunak and Johnson can stick to their promises not to raise key taxes, made to voters before the 2019 election.
The huge costs of tackling the worst of the coronavirus pandemic are likely to ease in the months ahead, meaning this year’s 400 billion pound budget deficit should narrow.
But Britain is probably on course to be stuck with a gap of 60 billion pounds between revenues and day-to-day spending by the mid-2020s, the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank says.
In a nod to that, Sunak is expected to start raising Britain’s low corporation tax rate.
The Sunday Times said the rate would rise steadily to bring in an extra 12 billion pounds a year by the time of the next election, due in 2024.
Other options include ending a freeze on fuel duty increases which has been in place since 2012 and looks at odds with Britain’s plans to be carbon net zero by 2050.
But higher fuel prices now would hurt the haulage industry, already struggling with Brexit-related disruption, and could alienate working-class voters who backed Johnson in 2019.
Higher capital gains tax or lower pension incentives would anger lawmakers in Johnson’s Conservative Party.
David Gauke, a former deputy finance minister, said the only big revenue-raising options were the ones that Johnson has promised not to touch – income tax, VAT and national insurance contributions.
“In the end, they are going to have to say, sorry we just can’t responsibly maintain that manifesto commitment,” Gauke told the Onward webinar.
($1 = 0.7046 pounds)
(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Catherine Evans)
Women inch towards equal legal rights despite COVID-19 risks, World Bank says
By Sonia Elks
(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Women gained legal rights in nearly 30 countries last year despite disruption due to COVID-19, but governments must do more to ease the disproportionate burden shouldered by women during the pandemic, the World Bank said on Tuesday.
Nations should prioritise gender equality in economic recovery efforts, the bank said, warning that progress on equal rights was threatened by heavier job losses in female-dominated sectors, increased childcare and a surge in domestic violence.
“This pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities that disadvantage girls and women,” David Malpass, World Bank Group president, said in a statement accompanying the annual “Women, Business and the Law” report.
“Women should have the same access to finance and the same rights to inheritance as men and must be at the centre of our efforts toward an inclusive and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
A total of 27 countries reformed laws or regulations to give women more economic equality with men in 2019-20, said the report, which grades 190 nations on laws and regulations that affect women’s economic opportunities.
While countries in all of the world’s regions made improvements in the new index – with most reforms addressing pay and parenthood, women on average still have only about three quarters of the rights granted to men, the report found.
Notably, nearly 40 countries brought in extra benefit or leave policies to help employees balance their jobs with the extra childcare needs created by coronavirus restrictions.
But such measures were “few and far between” worldwide and will probably not go far enough to tackle the “motherhood penalty” many women face in the workplace, it said.
The report also noted separate data from a United Nations tool tracking gender-sensitive pandemic responses which found 70% of such measures addressed violence, with just 10% targeting women’s economic security.
The pandemic could result in “a backslide on various hard-won advances in women’s rights achieved in recent years”, said Antonia Kirkland, the global lead on legal equality at women’s rights organisation Equality Now.
“This disruption is a unique opportunity for countries to rebuild more resilient, inclusive and prosperous economies,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.
“But this can only be achieved alongside the removal of sex discriminatory laws that prevent women from participating fully and equally in economic, social and family life.”
(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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