The scale of the spending cuts facing local authorities is too great for efficiency savings alone to bridge the gap. The Local Government Group and councils are taking the lead on exploring new ways of working that will protect front line services. Councils are starting to implement these new and different ways of working, but there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. This session provided a chance for members to hear from the political leaders of authorities at the cutting edge of developing new models of local government.
Councillor Robert Light, Kirklees Council, told how they have tried to shape the climate for change in their area. They have had no overall control for the last 11 years, but even at times of severe political difference and tension, they have always been able to come together for the good of the borough. Without strong leadership, they would certainly not have made the strides they have.
What they’ve done:
- Got senior officers to buy into the change agenda. It was tough, but they managed it and that’s why change was possible.
- Introduced their “One Council” initiative. Wherever you work, be it highways, refuse, or children’s services, you work for the council.
- Questioned why each department needed it’s own services, such as media or communications. This started to bring savings.
- Implemented a strong cross-party budget process, no matter who was in the chair of leadership.
- Changed the organisational culture. “We will be a different body in the future.”
Kirklees have had a lot of success, but accept that they have more to do, such as carrying out service reviews, and examining shared service and other radical options.
Councillor Tony Arbour, London Borough of Richmond upon Thames talked about their approach to different delivery models.
What they’ve done:
- Handed over functions to other authorities, for example, press and media has gone to Westminster Council.
- Subjected every department to scrutiny.
- Not allowed any new posts – they’ve used a star chamber approach if new posts are required. The recruiting manager must bring a genuine and robust business case to the chamber. Only three have been approved and this sends out a clear message.
- Carried out a postal survey of residents asking what they wanted – they achieved excellent response rates of 15 per cent. This has allowed them to break down results by ward and polling districts and gives a good idea of what residents want at a very local level. It’s important to do surveys like this, as sometimes we only hear those who speak the loudest, but this gave the opportunity for the silent people to speak.
- Took action based on what they heard, for example, residents were concerned with broken pavements, parking problems, access to shops and so on.
The council is now moving from being a providing authority to a commissioning authority. They are also trying to understand where they can join up, and where local solutions are needed.
The session was concluded by Anwen Robinson, Unit4 Business Software. As a supplier of services to the local government sector, they realised they had to change, as the sector changed. Here are some of the ways they are trying to support councils through change:
- Transparency – they offer a spend analysis utility for £499!
- Flexible engagement models – support for joint ventures and employee owned mutuals.
- Flexible service deployment and delivery models.
Anwen’s message was clear:
- There’s no future for suppliers who can’t offer something flexible for councils.
- Technology should be an enabler, not an inhibiter.
- Technology should not hold you back, it should make things easier for you.
The LG Group’s Local Productivity Programme aims to help councils move beyond efficiency to transform the way local services are delivered for the benefit of local communities. Find out more on the LG Group website.