The times are changing: starting the debate

“We cannot go on like this anymore!” “We need to fundamentally change; salami slicing budgets is of no use”. These are the battle cries across local government land. Many authorities, whilst applying large budget reductions are attempting fundamental service re-designs as major cultural change programmes. Our workstream will include examples of these. We will also feature heavily that many are seeking to transform their service operations by looking at new systems of service delivery. All kinds of organisational manifestations are under discussion but the main categories seem to be:-

  • Co-production -where the citizen or user is part of the process of constructing the service
  • Community ownership – where an existing service design is given to a community to run
  • Mutualisation – where an existing service is transferred to an employee mutual
  • Shared services – where an existing service is shared, usually with another local authority
  • Outsource – where a service is operated by a private sector or not for profit supplier

Putting aside how truly transformational any of this is, an issue that we will return to later, there is a common theme that runs through each of these five approaches.

Whether an authority is sharing production, delivery or ownership of a service operation, ultimately it needs to know how to share! Many local authorities do not find this easy!

Using examples from local government and with interventions from local government, private sector and not for profit organisation speakers, our workstream will explore why we find sharing so difficult. Why are organisations so keen to give up authority over service delivery and staff conditions of service, but still want to maintain an iron grip on outcomes (and sometimes) cost? Is such an approach really possible?

Given the financial circumstances facing the public sector why has there not been a veritable tsunami of sharing, innovation and transformation? Are we really looking at a reductionist strategy, dressed up as a transformational one?

Our summit workstream will explore some of these issues, but will seek to go further. What are the characteristics of organisational cultures and of leadership styles that makes genuine sharing a possibility? It does not matter whether the process is a straight outsource or a more complex sharing approach, an authority needs to be able to understand its own approach to risk, command and control and decision making, before it can hope to be a success. What are the success factors?

Before we step onto the transformational dance floor we may wish to choose an understanding partner, but even before that we need to know the basic steps, and be able to hear the music. So feel free to comment as much as you like on our Strictly Transformational workstream!

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2 Responses to The times are changing: starting the debate

  1. Pingback: The times are changing, but are we keeping pace? | Solace Summit 2011

  2. David Hill says:

    The times are certainly changng – and fast! And it’s not just about cost reduction and funding cuts. We are facing a veritable tide of change in legislative requirements; working relationships with key partners, many of which are going through major reorganisation; social and economic challenges that are taking new and complex forms; and public expectations about the way in which individuals and communities interact with public services and influence the way in which those services are delivered.

    In such circumstances, doing nothing is simply not an option. Going defensive, seeking to retrench and ‘salami slicing’ is not remotely going to work. It won’t deliver the savings and it won’t achieve the demanding outcomes that continue to be required. The only way forward is through comprehensive transformation – transforming the way we engage with, respond to and work with communities; and transforming the way we work and the means by which we deliver the outcomes required.

    At Milton Keynes Council, we have embarked on an ambitious Organisational Transformation Programme, with six main strands: transforming public access: transforming services for children and families; exploiting the health reforms to transform the community’s experience of services that promote health and wellbeing; exploring alternative methods of service delivery; transforming organisational structures and processes; and developing and exploiting new sources of funding. This all adds up to a major change programme. Doing it all at once creates some risk. But in my view, NOT doing it all at once would create an even bigger risk. The different strands all interact in different ways, and by pursuing them in parallel (and with mechanisms in place to identify and deal with dependencies) we can move more quickly to the right solutions across the board.

    David Clark is right to say that co-production, shared services and outsourcing are part of the response we must all make to the changes that are impacting on the sector – and they feature in the MK Transformation Programme. But I don’t think they should be seen as a panacea. Outsourcing can take up a great deal of time and energy; and it can lock you in to relatively inflexible arrangements that may not be capable of being changed quickly in response to the kind of dramatic changes we are currently experiencing. Shared services, too, are great in theory but heavy on negotiation and can be high maintenance. Co-production and improved engagement with local communities, the voluntary sector etc is again an excellent and appropriate thing to be doing, but it is not likely to lead to the kind of savings that are realistically required, so is not a total solution to the current situation. In other words, I agree with Ann Torry that certain choices of service delivery options give rise to real risks – risks to service performance, risks to reputation, risks to community perceptions and (a crucial factor at the present time) a risk of committing undue amounts of time and energy to something that doesn’t produce a commensurate return.

    One answer is to rely on good old-fashioned effective management. Get a grip on the budget, and on the workforce. Develop and communicate a clear vision and manage change programmes effectively. Deliver the changed ways of working, the greater reponsiveness and at least the bulk of the budget savings directly, rather than passing the challenge on to someone else.

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