Last week, we began looking back at the significant moments of 2020 at Bristow & Sutor. This week, we continue our review of a significant 12 months and look towards a positive future in 2021.
It became clear quite early in the year that any unnecessary curtailment of enforcement activity would have a big effect on council income and create an unnecessary backlog when income to fund vital local services would be needed most. Habits, expectations and behaviours can exist for years but also change in a very short space of time if enforcement is absent. The overwhelming response from our clients during the coronavirus lockdown was a realisation that returning to enforcement would fill holes left by loss of revenue streams and help provide increased support to those impacted financially by the pandemic. Leicester City Council and North Tyneside Council, for example, have both faced some of the most intensive lockdown measures this year, but both local authorities have still seen the value in resuming some form of enforcement activity. For those who have not resumed any activity as we prepare to enter 2021, at a time when there are well-publicised financial constraints, the question remains, why not?
In almost all cases where Bristow & Sutor has resumed some form of activity post lockdown, outstanding debts being discussed are from before the coronavirus pandemic began. Upon resuming activity, all clients are provided a copy of the latest Bristow & Sutor safe working procedures, to ensure what can and cannot be expected is understood and adhered to by all involved.
Bristow & Sutor has followed the latest Government and Public Health advice, with protocol being followed by employees at all times. PPE has been introduced to every member of society in 2020 and to ensure this equipment was used effectively, all Bristow & Sutor staff are now required to pass training on correct usage before they may conduct visits. This free training was provided by CIVEA and included guidance on when to use each piece of equipment, how to apply it, how to remove it and what the new rules are on conducting visits using it. All Bristow & Sutor EAs now possess equipment such as face masks, hand sanitisers, antibacterial wipes, disinfectant sprays and gloves as standard. Bristow & Sutor donated several boxes of PPE to Citizens Advice in Birmingham, to help ensure local access to impartial debt advice was not restricted for anyone in the community at this important time. We will continue to provide more boxes of PPE to other areas in the new year.
Our protocols exceed those being followed by many other industries that are continuing to visit domestic properties and have been successful in protecting staff and the public. For example, in September, of all enforcement visits only 4% of cases reported COVID-19 symptoms. The winter lockdown measures of November saw a return to limitations on groups and gatherings as well as restrictions on hospitality and leisure venues, but the Ministry of Justice advised that enforcement visits were safe to continue. It was stipulated that EAs should not enter domestic properties during this time, but this does not affect our current operations, as Bristow & Sutor had already been voluntarily preventing employees from entering properties. This remains the case as we enter 2021, with conversations still happening from the safety of the doorstep.
Transformation comes from within and Bristow & Sutor has consciously become more data-driven and invested in optimising decision-making processes in recent times. Insight and investigation into areas such as behavioural science has also affected engagement, changing our processes to maximise the chances of reaching a positive outcome and influencing how we train our employees on best practice.
Green road technology is something Bristow & Sutor takes very seriously and we are continuing to implement driver behaviour and accident reduction techniques wherever possible. We were proud earlier this year when our vehicle management systems achieved FORS Silver Award status. FORS accreditation demonstrates which operators are achieving best practice in safety, efficiency, and environmental protection. Reducing our carbon footprint will continue to be achieved in the future thanks to the most direct routes being sourced and associated fuel efficiency benefits of activity related to our latest internal routing software.
We recently implemented automated chatbot functionality, specifically for customer engagement via text message over WhatsApp. The goal was to bring our model and practice up to date, facilitating meaningful and informative conversations and outcomes for debtors when they are the initiator of message-based conversations. This incredibly useful technology can identify requests, the type of debt being discussed and use the comprehensive workflow to suggest relevant next steps, advice, links and information for resolving Parking or Council Tax related queries.
Technology and transformation became instrumental to our service offering long before the COVID-19 pandemic. A willingness to embrace fresh ideas beyond the tried and tested has fine-tuned the way we work and supported us with situations that were unexpected and could not be anticipated. Our success with technology has been recognised this year win an award win, in partnership with Palladium Digital, as we achieved Silver in the Digital Change & Transformation category at DXA’20, UK Digital Experience Awards.
Virtual meetings and events have become the norm for us all and Bristow & Sutor has taken the opportunity to begin fostering conversations through the medium of Webinars. Our ‘Leading the Way’ sessions have included presentations from staff, contributions from industry figures and clients, Q&A opportunities and featured topics such as the return to enforcement, vulnerability, training advice, reconnection methods and more. We have also been present at industry online events, including the first-ever virtual IRRV Conference, where Simon Freedman, Solutions Manager – Revenues, discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the collections process; as well as the Traffic and Parking Conference, where Darren Bell, Solutions Manager – Road Traffic, gave his insight into adapting to how people will live, work and travel now and in future.
In 2021, Bristow & Sutor will remain focused on its mission to provide an ethical, compliant and high-quality service to the public and private sectors. We have recently welcomed new members of staff to drive Social Responsibility and Customer Welfare initiatives, as people remain at the centre of everything we do.
All visits from Bristow & Sutor will cease at close of business on Tuesday 22nd December 2020. Our offices will be closed from Thursday 24th December. Visits will recommence on 29th, 30th and 31st December. We return to normal operations from Monday 4th January 2021. We wish all staff, clients and customers an enjoyable festive period and look forward to resuming services in the New Year.
Bristow & Sutor remains committed as ever to our service approach of Cool, Calm and Collected.