Taking responsibility

Local government faces tough decisions in today’s sensitive economic climate. We face significantly reduced funding from central government and our customers expectations for our services have dramatically increased.
Like many councils, we looked to appoint a major external partner to lead us through the change process, outsourcing 20 services for a period of 12 years in the belief that this would help us jumpstart transformation and achieve a step change in service quality for the Walsall community.
We hoped this would enable us to front load access to investment in a way that was just not possible for the authority by itself and access skills and resource capacity unavailable within the Council. We were prepared to be bold with new service models providing streamlined, modernised services, with supporting infrastructure and subsequent economic regeneration to the area, including a new regional business centre.

Negative impact
But during the lengthy negotiation process, Walsall became increasingly concerned with the developing financial model and the complex framework of contractual service level agreements and performance measures. We became aware that there would have a negative impact on the councils medium term financial outlook and our choices around budget management in demand led services would become increasingly limited.
So the decision was made by the Leader and Cabinet to withdraw from partnership negotiations and look at an alternative and possibly more courageous option: Doing it for ourselves.

Our service managers felt that if we believed in ourselves and had appropriate support, they could deliver significant change on our own terms and realise real efficiencies and savings directly rather than losing money into wholescale outsource costs. We could make higher levels of re-investment in the community because we ran our own programme.
At the same time,We had to be realistic about the skills and capability available “in-house”. There would be a definite benefit to using specific and carefully managed expert external resource when needed. But it would be on our own terms so that our chosen partners would deliver real knowledge transfer and mentoring for our joint teams during the engagement. For example, the ICT transformation programme needed fresh perspective and skill sets we didn’t have, so we engaged Deloitte to provide support over the last 12 months and make sure that we created a self-sufficient change management capability supported by the right methodologies.  

So can we do it for ourselves?
Overall In the first year our transformation team and programme governance was set up under an assistant director and significant progress has been made.
Over £1.4m of REAL money has been saved through consolidated financial administration and less temporary staff, new procurement framework and restructuring the HR and OD services. The assessments of the future strategy for ICT and ORACLE as a key platform have been completed and targeted investment secured to deliver a step change in technology and enable proactive engagement with services, under the leadership of an ICT assistant director for the first time.
The corporate procurement fundamental was reviewed, working with a procurement specialist and the 4Cs organisation to streamline processes and extract savings and better value from procurement activities.
A new centralised contact centre set up combining the switchboard and street pride contact teams. Further phases will see radical process re-engineering to incorporate further service areas and a first contact solution strategy.
A new electronic document management system has been sourced and deployed in 41 days in the revenues and benefits service to  improve process efficiency, deliver cash savings and reduce costly storage space.

And what have we learnt from the process?
It was important to take the time to thoroughly review lessons learnt from our consideration of outsourcing. This informed our approach to our own transformation programme and accelerated some of the early planning phases.
It was recognised that leadership and sponsorship for change must be led from the top (Leader and chief executive) and change needs to be realistically prioritised against other council activities including the daily delivery of services to our customers.
External organisations do not necessarily have all the answers and being realistic about what is affordable in terms of pace of change, can present alternative options.
Appropriate levels of resource need to be costed into all business cases for projects and programmes at the outset and investment needs to be a long term commitment to extract maximum benefits.
Long term, organisational and political engagement is vital to smooth-out competing interests, maintain a consistency of strategic direction and to make sure everyone understands the ongoing organisational commitment.
It was also recognised that focused external assistance can prove very effective, but there must be knowledge transfer and demonstrable value.

Taking ownership
So our choice to have the courage of our convictions and manage ourselves has been vindicated and shows that local government can take ownership of transformation programmes without necessarily having to turn to the almost obligatory ‘security blanket’ of a fully outsourced solution. That’s not to say that small carefully managing external assistance is not important, but you must do it on your own terms and for your benefit.For more information
Website: www.walsall.gov.uk  

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