May 2010 brought the changes everybody at blue badge HQ had been fearing. The coalition government severely cut funding for the project. The team had to pull Northgate’s funding solution out of the hat fairly quickly, while local authorities had already agreed to charge more than the traditional £2.00 per user for the badges in order to cover the shortfall.
But ministerial announcements from the new government still had to be waited on, and these changes did not occur until later in 2010. Finally, Norman Baker, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Transport, gave the team the go-ahead, but it now felt like a race against time to get the scheme up-and-running before the next cycle of badges ran out at the end of 2011.
Due to the team’s carefully laid plans, the DfT and Northgate had everything in place by May 2011. “Then it was full steam ahead,” says Pierson. “The data sharing element for local authorities went live at the end of November.”
Fortunately, local authorities were keen to get hold of the new system so that they could do preparatory work for the next badge cycle. Funding agreements stretched to £10 per user – which the government and blue badge users agreed was a fair amount in a testing financial climate – although local authorities could subsidise that price if they saw fit.
The new badges were rolled out in January 2012 and, last year, saved UK taxpayers the £46m in what had previously been lost on fraudulent cardboard badges. Administration costs were also cut by the standardised digital application system.
On winning a UK IT Industry Award, Holloway tells Computing, “Just to hear that recognition that we’d worked so hard from other people was great.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever jumped up and down so much,” adds Pierson.