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History in the making

Provided by Insolvency News

A year shy of its 350th birthday, The Gazette – founded in 1665 – is the UK’s oldest continuously published newspaper and its official newspaper of record. Martin Fagan finds out how its publishers have brought it online, added more tools and turned it into a vital tool for insolvency professionals

Only one newspaper in the world beats it for longevity – Sweden’s Post-och Inrikes Tidningar (Swedish for “Post and Domestic Times”), first published in 1645, and serves as that government’s official notification channel for bankruptcy and insolvency.

But a fine vintage will only get you so far in the estimation of modern business users.

Over the centuries times have changed, and The Gazette has changed with them. Most recently, in
October 2013, it left behind newsprint for a high-function website – It was no impulse decision: to ensure this site reflected the needs of its users, the Gazette spent the early months of 2012 asking its customers what they really wanted from the service.

The Gazette’s publisher says the technology behind the site – its search function and data-feed capabilities in particular – will bring about a number of benefits for the insolvency industry. For
example, the new platform will allow users to manually and visually check the provenance trail of any published notice.

Recorded as RDF – a standard model for data interchange on the web – the trail can be interrogated at any point to show exactly how a notice has been handled, transformed and altered.

Moving online also means The Gazette’s entire listing process is speeded up. The publication date of each notice is now the date the notice is published online, rather than the date the notice appeared in the printed edition.

Serious business
Although it may have started life as a scandal sheet name-checked in the works of Charles Dickens, Jonathan Swift and Samuel Pepys, The Gazette now plays a vital part in the insolvency process, as
the website carries information on notices of bankruptcies, appointments of liquidators and meetings of creditors.

“The insolvency profession uses The Gazette for two things,” says Chris Minshall of The Stationery Office (TSO), its publisher.

“One of these purposes is lead generation, as at the beginning of the insolvency process we publish winding-up petitions and other data we can then supply electronically. The second purpose is as a tool to give people an idea of market shares within the insolvency world.

“For many in the insolvency industry, the primary purpose of a Gazette notice is to communicate a scheduled or past insolvency event to creditors. Along with a series of other prescribed submissions of information, placing a notice in The Gazette is a mandatory part of the insolvency process. This is data we can supply in a variety of formats to facilitate lead generation.”

Notices may announce forthcoming events, such as a meeting, court hearing or dividend, a report on past events such as a resolution or appointment, or details about how to take part in an event such as a claim for a dividend or representation at a trial.

Minshall says it’s important for this information to be permanently on the public record and available for review by courts and regulatory authorities, forming part of what he calls “a longitudinal archive of insolvency”.

However, although The Gazette is the “published by authority” source for this information, its primary purpose is to communicate scheduled – or past – insolvency events to creditors, and this information is provided by the insolvency profession.

There are two broad notice types which come from outside the insolvency profession. One is winding up petitions, predominantly from HMRC and the Treasury Solicitor, with the remainder coming from solicitors. Winding up petitions are classed as adversarial debt recovery, or in the case of HMRC, tax recovery.

“As they are inherently contested, petitions are the single most sensitive corporate insolvency notice type,” says Minshall.

The second notice type is company winding-up orders, which are published exclusively on behalf of the Insolvency Service, with almost all other corporate insolvency notices coming from IPs.

Data feast
All these notices accumulate into a vast bank of data, which is perhaps not something a busy IP has time to pick through for the information they need. To this end, the Gazette offers datafeeds, which have been well received by the industry.

“If you’re an IP and you’re looking through the website, there’s a lot of information on there and it can be a long process to sift through manually,” says Minshall. “The datafeeds are not only a time saving exercise, but they also ensure accuracy and avoid keying errors. Sometimes if you’re copying and pasting from the website onto a spreadsheet, mistakes can occur. Using the datafeeds avoid this.

“We’ve offered for a number of years once customers start using the service, they very rarely leave.”

One datafeed customer has used the service for five years, chiefly to monitor their competitors, check out their share of the market they receive and keep their clients abreast of appointments of administrators, liquidators and intended dividends.

In terms of giving them the ability to offer a high level service, the datafeeds enable customers to be a conduit for information as well as assisting with credit control queries, adding significant value to their business.

Another customer has received The Gazette for more than 13 years across different companies, and uses it as part of a database for quality control purposes. In addition they use it for lead generation
and confirmation, creating a picture of a particular insolvency to determine whether or not a lead is worth pursuing.

“If a subscriber takes the daily [datafeed] option, they’re receiving the data almost as soon as we do,” says Minshall.

“The data is easy to integrate into systems because it comes in a wide range of formats – CSV, XML – we can also provide bespoke solutions, so if a customer doesn’t like the way things are laid out, they can tell us and we can take out what they don’t need.”

To infinity, and a little further
Janine Eves, Gazette business and operations director at TSO, believes the insolvency industry will be excited by The Gazette’s new digital transformation.

”In terms of its unique search function and features, the technology behind the new website will bring about a huge number of benefits for the insolvency industry,” says Eves.

“The ability to check that an insolvency notice has not been changed since its publication date is of real benefit, as it helps to improve accuracy and reliability.

“Because it’s quicker and easier to place a notice on the new platform, it will help insolvency professionals demonstrate that they have fulfilled their official publishing responsibilities, whilst being able to implement efficiencies in their internal processes, leading to potential cost savings.”

So, the Gazette. Born into the world of plagues and wars fought on horseback with swords and muskets, to a brave new world of XML feeds, search engine optimisation and tablet devices. Here’s to the next 350 years.