Scotland Technology

National Entitlement Card – Simplifying the Jigsaw


Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

It’s been over 15 years since the National Entitlement Card (NEC) launched in December 2004 as Scotland’s national smartcard. The Digital Public Services team at the Improvement Service reflect on some of the impacts of the scheme, and how they might reduce some of its complexities going forward.

With over 2.2 million cards in circulation today, the National Entitlement Card is Europe’s largest single multi-application smartcard scheme. Available to all age groups, the card comes in various forms; as an NEC, a Young Scot NEC (for those aged 11 – 26 years) or as a Kidz Card.

The scheme has grown substantially since its launch. Today, cardholders can access a range of local authority services, national and local entitlements and concessions, and discounts within retail and leisure outlets simply by using or presenting their card. Local authorities, Transport Scotland and Scotland’s national youth information, Young Scot, are all big users of the NEC Scheme.

The scheme’s success and growth are huge positives. However, running a scheme of this size and scale is complex. Making sure the right card goes to the right person at the right address and with the right information on and ‘in’ the card unique to the individual is just like completing a 1000-piece jigsaw. It might be challenging and rewarding but it can also be frustrating.

The process of producing a card is the same for a young Scot, a middle or an older Scot. It involves sifting through a set of business rules or jigsaw pieces to knit the whole thing together. The colour and pattern of a jigsaw are its most easily distinguished features, offering a way to break the puzzle. In the NEC’s case, the colour and pattern will contain an assortment of logos, symbols and printed characters based on things like customer type, age, local authority, disability and free travel entitlement.

And just to make the puzzle even trickier, the bits will also include information electronically stored in them unique to an individual such as a person’s name, date of birth and expiry date. Fortunately, some help is available when completing a puzzle like this. Smart computer programming is deployed to interpret the puzzle and the logic behind it. And we use third party suppliers skilled in card production and card fulfilment to help complete the picture.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to look at ways to improve things for our suppliers and for the scheme.

Reducing complexity

In the coming months, the Improvement Service’s delivery partner for the NEC Scheme, Dundee City Council, will be initiating a fresh procurement to support and enhance the scheme’s delivery. It will involve procuring a database and software to support the management of card records, card printing services and plastic card supply.

We recently reviewed several aspects of the scheme, looking at identifying opportunities to simplify and reduce at least some of the complexities associated with it. We looked especially at the approach to card design now that over 600 variations of it exist and at how cards are encoded i.e. the information embedded within each card’s electronic chip.

In response to the review’s findings, a number of opportunities identified to simplify or improve things will be explored through the procurement process itself. We’ll also use this route to assess the suitability and feasibility of other opportunities to make the scheme’s delivery easier, more effective and efficient.

The review did highlight other ideas and opportunities to reduce complexity, simplify the scheme even more and bring broader benefits.

However, it wouldn’t be appropriate to take them forward without first engaging with local authorities corporately as implementing them may have some consequences locally.

As a result, we’ll be engaging shortly with local authority chief executives, looking to get corporate feedback on several areas including:

  • Use of a local authority logo on a card
  • Simplifying the information displayed on the reverse of a card
  • Role of paper-based and digital applications

Cardholders resident in three local authority areas have a printed barcode displayed on their card. The barcode is used to access services locally, such as libraries and leisure. In consequence, we’ll be engaging separately with these local authorities to better understand the nature of these arrangements in a bit more detail. The reason for this is that if these arrangements were to change at any point in the near or subsequent future, some implications are possible and it’s important that these are managed and carefully planned for.

We recognise the extremely tough times being faced by local government and other public bodies as they respond to the current crisis which itself is very dynamic and fluid. We’ll ensure that we take forward this engagement around the NEC Scheme sensitively and sympathetically around these other pressing priorities.


For more information on the NEC Scheme contact the Improvement Service


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