Headlines: September 21st, 2005

Phil Wollas, Minister for Local Government, wants councils to change the culture of their organisations to bring about a transformation in strategic planning and day-to-day management. To do this will mean a radical change from looking to improve the status quo to one of radically rethinking the whole approach. But to make progress along this route local government will need to be open-minded to change and to ‘think outside the box’, challenging long-held beliefs and questioning assumptions about the right way to do things.Greater efficiency can come through sharing services between authorities, and developing strategic partnerships, for example in procurement. This might call for putting aside party political differences in some cases or overcoming tensions between different tiers of local government in order to work more closely together.

Applying this strategic approach to personnel will mean ‘thinking big’ again and seeking a change of culture across the whole council. Large-scale efficiencies will only come by thinking much more about developing skills and career paths rather than in terms just of pay increases.

There is also scope in looking at how individual services are delivered. In particular finding out if they are what people want, whether the right people know about them and if the right provider is delivering them. The voluntary and community sector will become increasingly important as a service provider. Another question is whether the services are being delivered via the best channel to take advantage of the ever increasing number of technical solutions.

The Minister warned against reinventing the wheel in the drive to streamline transactions and rationalise back office functions. The 22 national egovernment projects provide a range of solutions, but there are more cutting-edge innovations and successes elsewhere in the private sector and in the voluntary and community sector. He quoted the example of an approach pioneered by Toyota which evaluates how services are delivered from the customer perspective and makes changes based on what the customer needs, not on what the service dictates. A pilot applying this approach to housing with re-engineered systems produced startling results. The time to carry out a repair in one pilot reduced from 46 days to under 6 days and the time it took to let a council house in another pilot dropped by 50%.

The challenge facing local government is that satisfaction with councils is falling but expectations are rising. Only transformation can meet this challenge.