Business rates provide more than half of Belfast City Council’s annual revenue which is used to fund services, from bin collections to leisure facilities. The timely and accurate collection of rates income, as well as the maintenance of an up-to-date register of businesses in the city, can be challenging.

Working with Land and Property Services, Belfast City Council applied for £100,000 of funding from the Department for the Economy’s Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) programme to encourage 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.

Phase one – Proof of concept stage

Through a R&D competition in July 2016, 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.

Phase two – Prototyping stage

Two companies – Analytics Engines and NQuiring Minds – successfully applied for further funding of £55,000 each to turn their concepts into functional prototypes during phase two 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.

NquryingMinds – Trusted Data Exchange
The Trusted Data Exchange (TDX) provides analytics and secure data sharing, powered by artificial intelligence, that allows users to share data sets, maximising the ability to analyse and generate insights. NquiringMinds and Belfast City Council used the TDX with internal and open datasets to optimise the collection of business rates.

Analytics Engines – COBALT Rates Revenue Tool
The COBALT Rates Revenue Tool uses multiple data points and advanced analytics to identify businesses not paying rates or the correct amount of rates. Through the inspector management application, it increases efficiencies, improves compliance and provides real-time reporting and analytics.

COBALT can identify:

  • properties listed as vacant but are occupied
  • domestic properties operating as non-domestic
  • new businesses that have just opened.


During the two-week trial period, the two companies identified previously uncollected business rates to the value of approximately £500,000 which will continue to provide a year-on-year revenue stream to the council and the Northern Ireland Executive.

This project is a powerful example of how the SBRI approach enables public bodies to think differently about innovation and procurement. It also gives SMEs an important opportunity to innovate 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 R&D project, Belfast City Council, based on the knowledge that it gained from the project, has procured its first rates maximisation solution through a public tender.