EV Charging Programme Barnet

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Overcoming challenges in delivering an EV Charging Programme

The London Borough of Barnet secured £12 million in grant funding to support four EV projects, covering 50-75% of the project costs. However, the procurement process faced innovation barriers due to the unfamiliarity of EV markets among colleagues. Challenges included tight timelines, complex procurement requirements, and concerns over contract lengths and bid scoring methods.


  • Innovation Procurement: Collaboration with legal, finance, and procurement teams was crucial to overcome challenges in adopting new procurement approaches. Despite initial concerns over document alignment with Barnet’s contract standards, adapting the Oxford Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) proved flexible, allowing for necessary adjustments to suit Barnet’s requirements.
  • Complex Requirements: The requirement for bidders to present four different financial models and contract length of 15 year raised potential concerns about bid participation. To address this, a soft market test was conducted to gather feedback from potential bidders, leading to a consensus about 10-15 years being essential contract lengths for financial viability. Additionally, quality submissions were evaluated before financial aspects to ensure a balanced assessment.
  • Financial Modelling: Collaboration with finance officers ensured a robust business case and evaluated financial aspects, enhancing confidence in project recommendations. Flexibility in funding options, including full council funding or shared investment with suppliers, allowed for adaptability based on interest rates and financial viability.


  • Market Engagement: Collaboration with internal teams and market stakeholders facilitated smooth procurement processes and aligned financial options with market preferences, resulting in successful project outcomes.
  • Financial Flexibility: Adapting to changing interest rates and unexpected cost reductions allowed for optimal use of grant funding, leading to the delivery of additional charging points beyond initial estimates.
  • Senior Buy-In and Recognition: Senior leadership support and nominations for awards reflected the success and impact of Barnet’s EV charging programme, demonstrating effective procurement and rollout strategies.


The London Borough of Barnet’s EV charging programme showcases the importance of collaboration, flexibility, and market engagement in overcoming challenges and delivering successful projects. By navigating procurement barriers, adapting financial models, and leveraging market feedback, Barnet achieved its goal of expanding EV infrastructure while ensuring cost-effectiveness and sustainability.


  • Collaboration with internal and external stakeholders is essential for overcoming innovation barriers in procurement.
  • Flexibility in financial modeling and funding options enables adaptability to market conditions and project requirements.
  • Market engagement and feedback contribute to successful procurement outcomes and project delivery.
  • Effective leadership support and recognition enhance project visibility and success.


When conducting a procurement of innovation, clarity in the Invitation to Tender (ITT) documents is paramount. Ensure that requirements are articulated with precision. By providing explicit guidance in the ITT documents, local authorities can minimise the need for extensive clarification questions and reduce the risk of bidders misunderstanding or becoming confused about the project’s requirements.” 

Paul Bragg, Head of Network and Infrastructure – Street Scene, London Borough of Barnet

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With a rapidly changing urban economy, Belfast soon recognised that it was missing out on business rates income due to a lack of access to real-time, accurate data.

Given that a substantial proportion of Belfast City Council’s public services are funded through these local taxes, it was clear that the city needed an up-to-date register of businesses.

“Over the past decade, Belfast’s economy has become increasingly dynamic, with lots of new businesses either setting up or moving premises every month. That’s obviously good news for the city. But as a result, we’ve had great difficulty in accurately tracking which businesses should be paying rates” explains Deborah Colville, Belfast City Innovation Manager and Head of the Smart Belfast programme. “We needed to improve our access to up-to-date and real-time information.”

A number of new approaches had been tried over the years to address the problem, but they tended to rely on slow and manual processes.

Smart Belfast

Under its Smart Belfast programme, the city launched a competition to encourage innovative companies to address the challenge. The selected companies each received £100,000 through the Northern Ireland Small Business Research Initiative which encourages businesses to bring innovation to public sector challenges.

Data scientists and other experts from the UK’s Connected Places Catapult came on board to better define the challenge and the specific outcomes the city wanted to achieve.

“We discovered that we needed to stop trying to second guess what a solution should look like, and instead focus on developing an excellent challenge definition process,” says Colville. “You need to commit to opening up your people and your data to give these businesses the chance to fully understand the complexity of the problem.”

After an open call, proof of concept and prototyping rounds, two companies – Analytics Engines and NQuiring Minds–were selected to tap into a range of data sources to help identify a solution to the challenge.

“We opened up 24 data sets across a whole range of other organisations, like Northern Ireland Water and Land and Property Services. We also provided our own council data sets such as waste collection, so we could find out if services had been accessed at particular premises,” she explains.

Half a million pounds identified

In the prototype phase the two companies identified an initial £500,000 of previously uncollected business rates, and since then, additional opportunities to collect revenue have been uncovered.

“The project really demonstrated the power of data science in helping the city to better understand a rapidly changing economy. Even ten years ago, cities could perhaps have relied on traditional methods to track such change. In the modern world this is no longer an option.”

“We’re now further developing the model to help us understand other aspects of the city, its economy and the ecology of its property market,” Colville says. “From there, we’re beginning to feed into wider city planning and decision-making, not just rates collection.”

Smart Belfast Framework

Challenge-based procurement is an integral component of the Smart Belfast Framework, first released in 2017, which established a permanent city innovation team driving innovative procurement approaches alongside traditional procurement, within the council.

“A key learning for us is the relationship between public innovation and public procurement. Right from the beginning we’ve been very aware that the public sector’s traditional approach to procurement can sometimes present a barrier to innovation, which by its nature can be difficult to predict in terms of success. So it’s very important that we work with our procurement experts in council to find ways to address these tensions.”

Since the launch of the Framework, the council’s City Innovation Team has delivered a diverse portfolio of 47 projects, leveraging funding worth over £10 million and working with over 200 SMEs and stakeholders. Projects have used a range of technology including IoT, AI, machine vision cameras, chatbots, VR and AR, satellite imagery and data analytics to tackle challenges in areas such as urban mobility, healthy living, air quality, tourism, economic development and the Covid pandemic.

The framework is also driving the development of a £120 million digital programme across the region as part of the Belfast Region City Deal, with investment in wireless infrastructure, healthy neighbourhoods, green energy and integrated mobility projects.

Removing barriers to innovation

Belfast is building on its learning to design ever more ambitious challenge fund programmes for wider societal challenges related to decarbonisation, mobility, citizen engagement and health. It is due to receive £55 million as part of the Belfast Region City Deal to support these funds in 2022.

Belfast’s innovation focus now is on its new Smart District and Innovation District – seeking to introduce digital innovation into the city and economy’s ongoing development and management from street level upwards. Essentially, it’s about the procurement of innovation.

“Procurement can be a very black and white way of looking at something in terms of customer and supplier relationship,” says Colville. “We’ve realised the best procurement should encourage a collaborative focus on outcomes – not solutionism. We’re working to harness the city’s strengths, its creativity, research and academic excellence for the long-term benefit of all our citizens.”

Connected Places Catapult launched our Challenging Procurement programme to engage with experts and representative bodies from across the public procurement ecosystem to challenge the myths surrounding public procurement, share pioneering practice, set out new pathways and outline best practice for the procurement of new and innovative solutions by the public sector. Visit our Challenging Procurement hub to learn about the support CPC can provide and discover resources which can help you procure innovation.

Sparking the innovation potential of every place

Harnessing public procurement to signal appetite for new solutions is a common trait among successful hubs of innovation. Building on our experience supporting Belfast and its regional partners, Connected Places Catapult is growing a global network of place innovation pioneers to spark the innovation potential of every place.

Join place leaders from Belfast, Bergen, Glasgow and elsewhere at the upcoming UK Innovation Places Summit to connect with others who are using public procurement and other tools to drive new economic prosperity through innovation in their areas.





Initially, Belfast tried to identify solutions already on the market that would help boost revenue from rate-paying businesses, but after market research found no solutions commercially available, Belfast looked to launch a competition to attract new suppliers.

The Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) is an approach that brings public sector challenges together with ideas from business to create innovative solutions. According to Innovate UK, the SBRI programme has brought more than £1 Billion to the UK economy with over 66% of the contracts awarded to SME’s.

Keen to harness this approach, Belfast prepared to lay their challenge out to the market.


The first thing that Belfast needed to do before engaging the market was to define the problem they were actually trying to solve. Connected Places Catapult helped apply an objective, human-centred approach to this exercise in order to encourage creative solutions without overly defining the eventual solution — i.e. leaving room for innovation.

In defining the challenge, Belfast focused on what outcomes they wanted to achieve, rather than defining how they wanted to achieve them. For Belfast, these outcomes included:

  • identifying occupancy status of a non-domestic property in near real time;
  • ensuring that all properties required to pay rates have been identified and are valued for rates purposes;
  • identifying the function/use of a non-domestic property in near real time;
  • identifying the occupant of a non-domestic property in near real time; and
  • expediting the issuing of bills to new properties.

Working with Land and Property Services, Belfast City Council applied for £100,000 of funding from the Department for the Economy to bring forward the development of a timely, accurate and cost effective solution which could be implemented to maximise business rate revenue for the city. The council contributed a further £50,000 to the funding.

To reduce risk and allow space for innovative solutions to be developed and validated, the SBRI approach allows for a multi-stage bidding, shortlisting, validation and selection process.


The first step was running an open call that was open to any companies interested in taking part in the competition. To kick this off, the Council developed a structured plan for market engagement which included activities such as running ‘meet and greet’ sessions open to companies interested in taking part in the competition to talk to council officers about it and get prepared. The open call was then released which was publicised in the press with a competition briefing and online application.


As a result of the competition, four companies were awarded £5,000 each to help turn their ideas into more substantial proofs of concept over a six-week period. These projects focused on behavioural economics, Internet of Things networks, rule-based analytics and machine learning models. Crucially, none of the firms which responded to the open call had previously considered themselves local government suppliers.


Two companies — Analytics Engines and NQuiring Minds — were awarded further funding of £55,000 each to turn their concepts into functional prototypes during Phase Two. This phase ran from November 2016 to March 2017.

The companies had the opportunity to trial their new solutions over a two-week period. Using different approaches, they used a range of data sources, such as from Belfast City Council, Land and Property Services and Northern Ireland Water, to enhance the process for identifying rates income from businesses in the city.


During the final two-week evaluation period, the two companies identified an initial £500,000 of previously uncollected business rates. Subsequent use of the winning solution has since revealed still more previously unrealised revenue which is now being used to deliver local services.

In addition to demonstrating to Belfast City Council the value of taking a challenge-based approach to procurement, the SBRI process also gave SMEs a valuable opportunity to innovate and commercialise ideas in a real-world environment.

“Our experience of working with Belfast City Council and Land & Property Services has been invaluable, and having the opportunity to work on a city challenge directly with the service end users has been incredibly rewarding. Access to data and funding allowed us to focus fully on the challenge at hand, including the development of algorithms, which gave new insights and allowed us to propose new ways of doing things. We are now promoting our solution to a range of new markets.” Analytics Engines

Since the completion of this SBRI, Belfast City Council not only moved to procure a rates maximisation solution, but expanded its use of challenge-based procurement through the creation of the Smart Belfast Framework though which they regularly publish information about problems they are looking for the market to solve.




Network Rail and Connected Places Catapult won the Safety Award at the Railway Industry Association’s Railway Industry Supplier Excellence awards on 29 June for their work to take forward a new piece of technology known as ‘geofencing’

The challenge

Rail trackworkers are an essential and valued part of the Network Rail workforce, performing essential installation and maintenance activities. They work on challenging tasks in challenging environments, often through the night. Their safety is a priority, and over the years much progress has been made to improve the ways in which operations are conducted and the equipment used.

While the UK has one of the best rail safety records in Europe, developments in processes and technology are continually being pursued to improve worker safety.

With this in mind, Network Rail and Connected Places Catapult have worked together to develop wearable safety devices that allow rail workers to be alerted as soon as they step out of a safe zone, defined by a virtual ‘geofence’ perimeter.

Workers can unintentionally find themselves in a position of danger if they lose situational awareness, which can be described as being unaware of or confused about their position, relative to where they think they are or where they should be.

There can be a number of causes for this, such as working on complex tasks requiring close focus, working in the dark, fatigue and cold, or in generally difficult environmental conditions.

Network Rail has identified geofencing technology as a potential solution to improve the safety of trackside working. Geofencing is a location-based technology where a mobile, cloud-based app or other software uses GPS, radio frequency ID (RFID), Wi-Fi or cellular data.

A mobile device can be worn to alert workers when entering or exiting a virtual boundary set up around a geographical location, known as a geofence. This provides an additional ‘tap on the shoulder’ for workers if they inadvertently stray outside of safe working limits. It would be deployed alongside and in addition to existing safety protocols and procedures.


Connected Places Catapult has been supporting Network Rail in developing this rail safety innovation. This was achieved by working with the client to first identify core technical needs and articulate these in the form of a challenge statement, providing criteria to test the market via a design contest process.

The aim of the process was to identify potential technology solutions that may be at different stages of development or applied in other sectors.

The design contest process enabled Network Rail to source three innovative technology solutions from three suppliers. Connected Places Catapult partnered with Network Rail to then test and trial their geofencing solutions in an operational track environment during a 10-week trial period. The Catapult oversaw the trials, working in close collaboration with the Network Rail Safety Task Force team and local route team.

The collaboration provided an excellent opportunity for the technology to be developed; firstly testing the solutions for accuracy and functionality, and then testing the devices across a variety of track scenarios and operations. Feedback was obtained from track workers, while the device suppliers developed their own understanding of how the devices could be developed.

By the end of the trial period, the three suppliers Tended, Track Tracker and Onwave had devices that were close to deployment at Network Rail while the route teams and the Safety Task Force team gained an understanding of where Network Rail would best make use of the technology.

Next steps

Connected Places Catapult developed a trial report structure that was used by the suppliers to facilitate onward implementation and use of the innovations.

A short animation to describe the technology was produced as part of the output of the trial project. This can now be used across Network Rail to outline the technology and facilitate potential deployment.

The devices will be tested against British Standards to prove functionality, for example performance under extreme conditions.

How Connected Places Catapult added value

A design contest is a procurement process that provides the option of engaging with successful suppliers at the end of the process via a service contract.

The overall process has provided an opportunity for SMEs to engage with Network Rail and bring their innovative technologies to the rail sector, and to test and refine the technology through the trials.

Connected Places Catapult’s support to the process was through project management and technical input. Our project management covered the delivery and governance of trial requirements between the Network Rail routes and SMEs. Connected Places Catapult ensured a robust testing environment across the route teams, and shared learning and best practice between the trial locations. We guided the tests, the testing schedules across the trial locations, and the final reporting output.

Network Rail has benefitted by exploring a new, innovative technology which has been demonstrated on live track environments. Service contracts would allow for implementation with the suppliers.

The benefit to suppliers was experience of working with track maintenance teams and the invaluable opportunity to develop their products with input from the end-users. The opportunity to demonstrate the functionality of their technology with Network Rail across a range of activities provided credibility of their devices in the rail sector.

Furthermore, the trials and evidence gathered has progressed the devices through the Network Rail product acceptance process. If the device suppliers continue to obtain full product acceptance, this would enable the devices to be used across Network Rail as well as provide significant interest across UK and European rail sectors.

Although the devices were all slightly different at the start of the trial process, Technology Readiness Level (TRL) development of each has developed from around TRL 4/5 to TRL 7. Further requirements are now being developed by the Network Rail sponsor to ensure the devices are ready for deployment.

It is understood that the suppliers have all benefitted from the trials through securing commercial contracts or further funding for technology development.