Modernising Electoral Services

In December 2014, following a detailed EU tendering exercise, Castlerigg were commissioned by South Lakeland District Council, on behalf of all of the six district and borough councils in Cumbria, to provide strategic consultancy and project management to their Electoral Transformation project, funded by central government. Castlerigg were selected based on their successful track record of implementing ‘digital by design’ in both local authorities and the NHS.

Electoral services had barely changed since Victorian times and was still a very manual, specialist and paper driven service in sharp contrast to many other public sector services.  It presented a clear and overdue opportunity for transformation, particularly with the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration in the UK during 2014.

Our brief was to create a business case, define the strategic options for future service delivery and redesign services with the objective of identifying efficiencies, improving overall resilience and creating new ways of working for electoral services in the Cumbrian sub-region.

We worked closely with South Lakeland Council’s team to support skills transfer and used our agile service review process to establish:

  • South Lakeland’s ‘as is’ service delivery model and evaluated this both strategically and operationally against council requirements and its legislative and regulatory framework
  • The services vision and design principles to guide future service delivery
  • Opportunities for transformation using our business analysis methodology
  • A new, ‘to be’ transformative service delivery model for each council
  • Agree delivery options and service re-design approach
  • Confirm and seek approval to case for change

Our analysis identified a clear case for digital transformation, as the previous electoral service model was not compatible with the risk management and business continuity approaches employed elsewhere in local government. From this evaluation, we delivered a new, ‘to be’ transformative service delivery model for each council with delivery options and service re-design approaches. Our case for change was approved in February 2015 and an implementation project followed to achieve the following outcomes:

  • A new, information-led approach to a year round canvass approach
  • A new project management approach to election delivery
  • A clearer separation of specialist and non-specialist duties in electoral services
  • New process and workflows for registration management
  • Recommendations around fees and charges for election personnel

A number of improvement opportunities were identified which in combination will amount to a new service model. These included:

Better use of information:

  • Adopting a proactive ‘tell us once’ approach to trigger registrations after a change of circumstance to address new guidance on rolling registration.  South Lakeland figures alone suggest even targeting council tax customers would create the potential for 680 new or changed registrations per month in that council  
  • Using local data to support the accuracy and completeness of the register by targeting canvass and registration efforts, particularly with under registered groups (URGs), through better use of customer intelligence.   By combining the household visit with the delivery of the initial HEF to those households that are deemed unlikely to respond in a timely manner, it will reduce the number of 1st and 2nd reminder letters and potentially make savings as well as improve the effectiveness of the canvass

Digitisation of service:

  • The introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) has created, for the first time, digital access for the registration processes.  This will be the start of wider digitisation of what is currently a manual, paper-driven service.  For every 100 registration applications received online rather than on paper there is a saving of 6 hours of officer time to reallocate to other duties to support resilience  

Management of registration and election delivery as distinct functions:

  • A new approach to delivery was required to address resilience issues and establish the right mix of knowledge, skills and capacity for each element of the service.  There were elements of both functions that could be undertaken by staff who are not electoral service specialists, improving resilience and efficiency
  • There is an opportunity for councils to increase postal voting, which has been demonstrated to achieve a higher voter turnout at elections than those voting at polling stations.  There was an added benefit that the verification process can be done before polling day and in time, there is the potential to reduce the number and range of polling stations


  • A number of councils would benefit from re-procuring technology and print contracts to drive robust supplier management and support business continuity planning. There appeared to be large variations in the print spend across Cumbria, beyond that which could be attributed to differences in electorate size

Our case for change was well received by the Cabinet Office and has shaped their thinking on the future design of election management including Cabinet Office pilot work on future information led canvasses in 2016.

“In 2015 Castlerigg provided us with change consultancy, programme and project management services to deliver an ambitious electoral services transformation programme.  Working across all partner councils in Cumbria, they first identified a case for change and then, under our direction, identified a range of new methods of service delivery to improve our service resilience, modernise working practices and reduce reliance on scarce specialist skills.  In a service area which is in desperate need of modernisation, Castlerigg have enabled us to fundamentally challenge the current status quo and start re-building electoral services to be ‘digital by design’ in the 21st Century.  This work has been high profile nationally, and we continue to work with the Cabinet Office to build on our success to date.

I have found Castlerigg to be a very professional company who can bring their experience from a range of different sectors such as central government and health. The consultants supplied have worked exceptionally well with our teams and we are delighted with the quality of work that has been delivered.”

Simon McVey, Assistant Director Policy and Performance, South Lakeland District Council

Here's how…


Change Management

The sustainability, resilience and efficiency of the existing delivery model was a concern shared across central and local government.  Given the nature of the service, change needed to be carefully handled and associated risks understood and managed.

Electoral service delivery was characterised by small teams working hard under unprecedented demand.  The capacity of local authorities to deliver complex and combined polls with such limited resource was a common challenge.  There was also considerable duplication, as each council delivered the same back office and front line functions based upon the same statutory framework.  The need for change was clear and the current risks to service delivery were balanced against the risk of change and communicated to the project board to inform their decision making on the way forward.