Professional Pest Controller Magazine Issue 90

21 February 2018

Unbugging local authority pest control

Feature meet the member | PPC90 March 2018

Unbugging local authority pest control

While many local authorities are scaling back their pest control work (or cutting it altogether), the PPC team went to meet a local authority that’s ramping up pest management work by offering a more professional, commercial service. BPCA Servicing Member Lancaster City Council, aka Unbugged, tells us about how it's beating council cuts by investing in its own pest control division.

Council cuts have been hitting the news for years now, and many local authorities have seen a downturn in the services they can provide. A couple of years ago, Lancaster City Council was asked to make its pest control division cost neutral. With the trend of LAs closing their pest management departments, it’s fair to say Lancaster was keen to, not only meet but, exceed this target. 

Susan Clowes from Lancaster City Council explains: “The idea for Unbugged first arose in 2016 when, due to the state of public finances, the council began to consider commercialising some of its services. Pest control was an obvious choice as it was very highly-valued by the public and politicians alike and already had an excellent reputation throughout the north-west.

“Pest control is not a statutory function for local authorities, therefore increasing income generation to cover the cost of the services provided would help to safeguard its future.”
The plan was simple. Take on more, higher value commercial contracts, increase the size of the team, and offer more pest control services, thereby increasing income and protecting the services provided to residents.

Unbugged was launched in 2017 as the commercial arm of the council’s pest control service – and they haven’t looked back since.

Out and about with Unbugged

A complete rebrand

With the ambition to pursue larger and more lucrative contracts, Lancaster City Council wanted to break away from its local authority image (and any preconceived ideas that clients might have). ‘Unbugged’ would engage in all the commercial contracts, meaning that it could leave its council branding back at the town hall when needed.

Unbugged went through a marketing agency which designed everything from a new logo and website, to service folders and van wraps. The aesthetic is clean, professional and makes a great first impression on a site.

The rebranding goes further than a new name, a shiny website and print materials. Unbugged chose to become a BPCA member and is in the process of getting CEPA Certified®. The idea being that these badges of professionalism would open doors to new commercial clients.

Trying new services

Lancaster City Council’s pest control team has always believed in making quality improvements and developing additional services at every opportunity. Over the last few years the team has added drain camera surveys, EFK supply and servicing, and drain rat flap installation to its list of services. They even make their own fly screens.
Unbugged now carries out rodent proofing and offers a range of bird-proofing services including spikes, netting and gull egg replacement. They’ve just experienced a rise in requests for pigeon-proofing solar panels.

All technicians are PASMA and IPAF certificated, and the team recently invested in a scaffold tower, meaning technicians can work at height in all types of situations. This, in turn, leads to the Unbugged team carrying out work for other local authorities and taking on even more clients.

What was tricky about ‘going commercial’?

The team was concerned that the excellent reputation built up by Lancaster City Council Pest Control Service would be lost in the rebranding exercise but, in fact, the two separate brands complement each other. There have been practical issues to resolve – for example, having two different uniforms and two different vehicle liveries within a small team, but that's all part of a learning experience.

The team

It’s fair to say a considerable part of Unbugged's success has been due to its dedicated team of technicians. Where many teams would have been resistant to change, the whole Lancaster City Council team got on board with the plans on the condition that services to residents wouldn’t suffer as a result of pursuing more commercial work.

The team expanded, including taking on a trainee technician. The whole team had a say on who got the job, and they went for someone new to the industry so they could train him to their standard straight off the bat. James Bland will be taking his Level 2 Award through BPCA very soon.

Meet the team

In a basement office, underneath the town hall, Unbugged told us the key to maintaining its strong team was being included in the decisions that were being made and encouraged to come up with suggestions – many of which have been adopted helping further growth. The name ‘Unbugged’ came from a group brainstorming session. One team member even suggested that working for Unbugged was like a paid hobby – hopefully that comment doesn’t come up at their next pay review!

Unbugged has invested heavily in the training and development of its technicians. Two of the more senior PCTs are going to be taking Certificated Field Biologist exams through BPCA. They’ve already been on our introductory course Becoming a Field Biologist – so we wish them luck!

Two team members are also heavily involved with Unbugged impressive social media activity. They Tweet and Facebook daily activity which shows how they carry out pest control and prevention work. We love their updates – so check out @Lcstr_unbugged on Twitter.

The team told us: “Social media is so important in spreading the word about what we do. It doesn’t need to take up a lot of time – two of us are authorised to update our Facebook and Twitter streams, and we do it as we’re out and about. There’s nothing better than posting a really interesting photo showing a job you’ve just done, and we receive a lot of useful feedback.”
Unbugged has recently won Lancaster City Council’s Team of the Year Award, which goes to show that trusting and empowering your team is obviously worthwhile.

Unbugged social media

How is it done?

    • Invest in technician training and development
    • Give technicians the tools needed to succeed 
    • Get the right advice and then try the new services
    • Empower the team with social media responsibilities
    • Employ the services of a professional marketing and branding agency
    • Bid for bigger contracts and get on procurement hubs
    • Join BPCA and get guidance from the team
    • Get CEPA Certified® (in progress)

The future

2017 can be considered Unbugged’s year of awakening, but now the groundwork has been done, 2018 should see the operation reap rewards from all of the hard work. They intend to bid for even bigger contracts and are looking at tenders through procurement hubs.

But what are they going to do with the extra cash generated? Susan tells us: “Lancaster City Council Pest Control Services still provides a full range of treatments and services to residents. The costs are subsidised and are also discounted for people in receipt of benefits. It is our aim that income generated by our commercial arm Unbugged will enable us to further review charges for our own residents.”

Making money for them means that the Unbugged team can help support some of the most vulnerable people in the council area. When there are families that need to choose between sorting out their home infestation or getting their weekly food shop, any penny that can be used to make services more cost-effective is a bonus. In this way Unbugged can be seen as not only the professionalisation of a local authority's pest control activity but also a social enterprise scheme, here to help some of the most vulnerable people in the UK.

We wish you luck, Unbugged!

Do you work for a local authority that would like support professionalising your practice? BPCA membership could help you grow. Ask our team about how we can support you through membership.

Do you have a member story you’d like to share with PPC readers? Contact our editorial team, and we could feature you in our next magazine. 

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Scott-Johnstone-Staff-bubbleScott Johnstone
Content and Communications Officer
1 March 2017  |  PPC90

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