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Big freeze shows how big society might work – or not?

So, a few inches of snow and the country grinds to a halt – again. “Chaos” cry the news papers/channels; a inquiry will be held into the performance of the Highways Agency and local authorities to establish just why our motorways ground to a halt, even when we knew the snow was coming.

Chaos as lorries queue up for the night

Lorries queing in South Kirkby

Myself, I was caught up in the chaos having departed Gainsborough in Lincolnshire for my now regular 38 mile drive to my sister in law’s in Yorkshire. What is normally a 45 minute commute became a 5 1/2 hour adventure and having left the office at 16:45 I finally arrived at my destination at 22:15; relived and extremely tired. But why does it happen? How is it that we can’t keep our major routes working on days like this? My mind cast back to 1993 when I lived in Harrogate – the last big snow in November and Harrogate was hosting the RAC Rally. That day the snow fell in the early afternoon and by 3 o’clock colleagues who lived afar were departing for homes in the Dales, Leeds, Bradford, York and the surrounding villages. By 3:30 the town was gridlocked and many people spent up to 6 or 7 hours trying to get home. That year I was lucky as I walked to work and went home on foot via the pub – a good night was had if memory serves me right!

On Tuesday the story was repeated in Gainsborough – the snow had coated Lincolnshire overnight but by early afternoon it was snowing heavily, very heavily. Many people decided to head for home early; the office has people who commute in from Pontefract, Doncaster, Grimsby, Nottingham and Sheffield as well as Lincoln and the rural villages of the County and most of the staff who lived outside of Gainsborough had left by 3 o’clock. Deja vu as within twenty minutes the town was gridlocked.

The problem you see, is that by everyone leaving early at the first sight of snow, the gritters have no chance of  getting out and treating the surfaces. It’s all well and dandy if it snows in the night – we sleep and the great unung heroes – lads and lasses who keep our roads clear – move out under cover of the night and presto, we wake up to decent road surfaces. They simply can’t grit roads covered in stuck cars, lorries, vans and coaches – we are victims of our own panic, merchants of our own doom. By our own actions we are left stranded in the snow.

Despite this I succumbed in the panic and I eventually set off at my normal time wondering if I was making the right decision or whether I should have sought a hotel in town. I had appointments later in the week in the North West and didn’t want to be stuck in a Gainsborough hotel, if as predicted the big freeze followed the snow ensuring it stuck around for days.  When I eventually got out-of-town local radio was telling me Lincoln was gridlocked too as was Sheffield. No mention of the roads in Nottinghamshire being problematic so I carried on. About 8 miles west we ground to a halt as the first incline on the road lay ahead .  After no movement for 15 minutes I decided to get my case out of the boot and change out of my suit into my winter gear  of walking trousers, thermals, fleeces and thick socks and boots along with warm outer wear including hat and gloves ( I was well prepared to walk out if necessary). We waited another 15 minutes before people started to get out of their cars and talk to each other (how often do drivers talk to each other on their commute?). We soon realised there wasn’t much traffic behind us – only four cars on a busy commuter route to the A1 – and nothing coming in the other direction. Some of us walked forwards to see what was causing the hold up. We groaned – three 18 wheelers stuck going up the hill and two skewed across the road coming down. We were discussing options eg turning around or waiting when a local farmer with his tractor arrived. What could one tractor do with all those lorries? Well, it was a revelation and a big testament to John Deere tractors. He made it look simple driving up the slope, hooking up the first lorry facing downhill and towing it down until it could gain its own traction once more. Then the next, then he was joined by a second tractor. Ok so they can pull heavy lorries down a snow-covered road – how were they going to turn around those facing up hill? Oh ye of little faith! Why turn them around when those awesome tractors could simply tow 38 tonnes of HGV uphill on snow! In less than hour all the HGVs had been cleared and we were on our way again. Still no traffic behind us.

A few miles down the road in the village of Everton there was a police road block facing traffic in the opposite direction. It turns out the police had been summoned by locals who had closed the road themselves to prevent further risk of stranded motorists. I asked why there were no vehicles behind us and was told again that the road had initially been closed by conscientious locals near Beckingham and that we were the last vehicles through. It was now officially closed to traffic.

By the time I got to Bawtry I had helped to push three BMWs and two Mercs out of snow drifts – rear wheel drive really is hopeless if you don’t know how to drive in snow. The last couple of miles to the A1 were strewn with rear wheel drive cars that had left the road. Blyth Services was packed with HGVs, – a local advised me not to even think about the Holiday Inn Express – it was full. I struggled onto the A1 north – it was surreal but passable with care. It was like Star Trek Warp Drive. A car in front (what is it about BMW drivers?) ventured into the second lane – I eased off fearing the worse – sure enough he lost the back-end and spun. Luckily he had plenty of room and no traffic around save for me; he recovered and sheepishly crawled back into the inside lane. Leaving the A1 at J38 I thought my journey was nearly over – only 2 or 3 miles to go. I hadn’t bargained for the amount of HGV traffic that heads in and out of South Kirkby. The village was gridlocked at 9:45pm with stranded lorries. The hill outside the local high school was nose to tail lorries; lots of them with no chance of getting up the hill out of the village. Back at Hampole a similar story of stuck lorries. By the time I arrived at my destination the snow was starting to freeze. Lorries could no longer get into the large industrial estate they were bound for; they now queued up down the main road through the village, literally dozens of them. A different community, a different culture. Very much the kids coming out to laugh at the chaos and grown ups blaming the authorities for not “sorting it out”. No one even taking a flask of tea to the poor drivers without whom their favourite goods would not be on their local supermarket shelves, in whose factories or warehouses they were bound for many of them worked. It was the council’s job to sort it, not theirs. Their role appeared to be to bemoan the lack of action by the authorities. Around 1am a council gritter arrived to grit the highways – he wasnt supposed to grit the industrial estate (it was private and therefore the owners responsibility) but he succumbed to common sense and, seeing the carnage of vehicles blocking the highway he spread his grit. Within 20 minutes the wagons were rolling into their depots. Had he refused the lorries would have stayed out all night and possibly longer until the landlord had arranged for the roads on its estate to be cleared.

Over two feet of snow fell in Lincolnshire, Notts and South/West Yorkshire that night – most of it inside 2 or 3 hours. It was treacherous, yet in such a remote rural area it was the local citizens who reacted first and who helped stranded motorists get on their way again. Without those farmers many cars and lorries would have been stranded, possibly all night. On the whole journey I didn’t see a single gritter or snow plough until one turned up at my destination. The contrast between the two communities couldn’t have been more stark – one couldn’t wait to dive into action and help, the other totally dependent upon the state and believing clearing the roads and helping stuck vehicles was the job of the authorities and “nowt to do wi’ us – we pay us rates and taxes”.

Snow the mroning after

The morning after…serene and VERY white

So Big Society can work but even in extreme circumstances it can be derided by society itself. I make no comment on the profile or political persuasion of the two communities other than one is probably very self-sufficient and the other very welfare dependent. I’ll let you decide which is which – but next time it snows during the working day, stay in the office until the gritters have done their thing and maybe we’ll all get home quicker!

Green Buying – is it really that simple?

Freelance journalist Michael Cross, founder of Free Our Data campaign, is one of the first, and no doubt not the last, to ask “11 years after Gershon, government is still dismal at buying stuff. Or is there more to it than that?”. Sir Phillip Green has now reported to government on public procurement and basically he says it is a mess.
I am by no means a procurement expert – but I do know some people who are and I was involved in establishing one of local government’s first online “marketplaces” and also the first reverse e-auction in local government which saved Preston and Chorley Council’s £25,000p.a. on white A4 paper alone back in 2004. Subsequent uses of e-auctions have saved the public purse considerably more. However, my point is one that many people, especially inside the public sector fail to grasp the rationale for;  that procurement managers were always keen to build up “framework agreements” for a basket of goods. By this I mean you would be presented (perhaps via a series of online or paper catalogues) with a list of prices for just about anything that local government might want to buy – from a paper clip to a street lamp. There would only be one supplier for each commodity which made life easy. However, their price for the item you were interested in might not be as cheap as you could get the item down the High Street. “Why should I pay that for it when I can get it cheaper down the road?” was the cry from budget holders and someone would be dispatched to a local store with petty cash.
What they failed to gasp was that the procurement team had negotiated a complete basket of goods based upon typical yearly or even longer periods of spend. The TOTAL aggregated cost of those goods would be significantly cheaper than if they were ALL purchased in isolation from different suppliers. However, the discount only works if minimum spend on basket items was achieved so when year end comes around and the reckoning is done, if budget holders have gone off and spent maverickly on paper clips at the local stationers this could have a seriously adverse effect upon the cost of big ticket items such as paper or ink toner where much larger discounts have been agreed. The end result would be that the maximum potential reduction in price would not be achieved. Through good training and comms this message can be hammered home but one thing it will have an effect on is the actual ticket price of items in the basket. Sir Phillip points out that one department is paying several times more than another for the same item. It may well be the case that department A doesn’t use (and therefore buy) as much as department B but Department A did get a much better discount on another commodity than Department B when negotiating its overall basket of goods. That aside, there will be an interesting debate on whether there should be total central control over procurement across government, let alone the wider public sector. Green’s key points about the lack of management information on spend could be echoed for just about any morsel of MI that a businessman would want to know about his own business. The public sector simply does not do management information very well be it buying habits, unit costs of delivering services, volumes of customers using services or their preferences for accessing them. If you’re lucky they may have some KPIs or customer satisfaction data. Unfortunately all too many public sector managers consider such MI to be an anathema; more effort than its worth – rather than a significant tool in an armoury of efficiency tools that could be far more effective than an axe.

Another History Lesson – Poor Laws

This week Iain Duncan-Smith will launch the Coalition  Government’s White Paper on Welfare Reform. It has been widely leaked that the paper will include an element of making the “long-term” unemployed undertake some form of work tasks or “mandatory work activity” for their benefits – perhaps as much as 30 hours a week.  The unions and the charities that support people on welfare are up in arms with cries of “cheap labour” and “undermining the value and efforts of manual workers”. The very idea of post-graduate students and middle class professionals who can’t find work in the current climate being required to litter pick or clear out canals in return for the meagre payment of a combined “universal credit” sounds almost like a return to 19th century Dickensian values.

The Government says that this forms a new contract with the 1.4 million unemployed. The government’s side of the bargain will be the promise of a new “universal credit”, to replace all existing benefits, that will ensure it always pays to work rather than stay on welfare. They want to get people out of the habit of not working, to show that it doesn’t pay to live off benefits and that it is unacceptable to expect the state to keep you forever (or even beyond 12 months in the expected proposals). Opinion is and will remain divided; mostly polarised views between those who have never been unemployed for any significant period of time, and those who claim to represent those who are long-term unemployed. We are unlikely to hear much from those who are actually long-term unemployed; the NEETs and the “scroungers” that the Daily Mail et al so loves to berate.

But is what is being proposed really new? I would suggest, probably not. Indeed if we look at the history of welfare in England the idea of working for welfare dates back to the turn of the 17th century.  The Poor Law of 1601 saw the commencement of state welfare for those in poverty. The Poor Law, of itself, did not bring about the workhouse but it did place a duty on each parish to look after parishioners who, either because of age or infirmity, were unable to work. The Act proposed the construction of (social?) housing for, inter alia, the elderly and chronically ill, but most assistance for the poor continued to be in the form of money, food, or other necessities given to those living in their own homes, funded by a local tax on the property of the wealthiest in the parish (income/property based council tax?). The workhouse “solution” evolved over the next 100  years or so as a way for the parishes (then the main form of local authority – Big Society?) to reduce the cost to ratepayers of providing poor relief (efficiencies/benefits too expensive?). The Workhouse Test Act was brought in as early as 1723 as a means test to prevent (or at least reduce) irresponsible claims. Anyone seeking poor relief could be obliged (note ‘could’, not ‘must’) to enter a workhouse and undertake a set amount of work, usually without pay, in return for food and shelter. Many parishes established workhouses during the 18th century, and by the 1830s most parishes had at least one. The Gilberts Act of 1782 allowed the parishes to form unions to further reduce costs  of building and maintaining workhouses (shared services/assets?).

Perhaps the key lesson from the Poor Laws and workhouse ethics of working for benefits was that by the 1830’s the system was on the brink of collapse due to the major increase in numbers of people who required poor relief due to an economic collapse leading to significant rises in unemployment – quite simply there wasnt enough money coming in to support the system. Sound familiar?

From Little Acorns…

Today I landed my first contract as an independent. A small contract but a contract nonetheless; one that will see us through until the next financial year, even if nothing else materialises. With all the doom and gloom surrounding the public sector at the moment I have found a ray of sunshine, albeit a small one that may not shine for ever. However, it is very positive that the public sector hasn’t given up buying in expertise altogether. Associates of mine all report an upsurge in interest in their services since the Comprehensive Spending Review. Principal areas of interest seem to be:-

  • Shared Service strategies – at senior team level and support services, customer contact and, in some ambitious areas, frontline service fulfilment
  • Harmonising and standardising IT systems/platforms/networks
  • Understanding needs of citizens so they can be the focus of resources
  • Place/Community budgets – how are they going to operate?
  • Smart procurement – either there is a lot of bad advice or the good advice is simply ignored but it beggars belief that procurement is not nailed down yet. Then again, it’s only last month that Phillip Green told us it was so.

All in all, I am a glass half full type but even my glass was starting to look empty of late. Right now though, despite the howling wind and torrential rain outside, I’m off down to my local to toast the future – and pray my acorn gets a chance to grow enough to resist the well honed blade of the axe.

Big Society – Your Community Needs You!

People who know me know I am Chair of Governors at a local primary school. I guess that makes me a non-paid up member of the Big Society already! Being a volunteer comes naturally to me – I am not one for sitting in the background moaning so I get off my backside and do something about it instead. Chairing a school governing body is an honour and a privilige and comes with some serious responsibilities ensuring proper care and education for the most valuable asset of the human race – our children. One of my biggest challenges has been ensuring a full compliment of governors and that committees are quorate – getting people to volunteer their precious time is not an easy task, even where it is the future of their own children at stake. That being said, governors are the biggest volunteer force in the country and we get zero financial reward, not even expenses. Those of us who do it do so because we are passionate about education and child protection. Parent governors have a vested interest, community governors are welcome for their fields of expertise, LEA appointed governors bring their experience of political office – and I am fortunate to say in my case no small amount of power and influence as the leader of the local council chairs my finance committee! The point being that getting people to volunteer is never easy. In my community is all too often the same faces on the governing bodies, parish council, local authority and pressure groups (we had a huge campaign against a propose quarry in the village recently).
Cuts aside, there is much about the coalition agenda to be admired, certainly the ambition for more of us to be community minded. However, there are also huge barriers to changing our predominantly apathetic society into David Cameron’s vision of a Big Society. Those who manage change for a living will know that there is nothing harder in management than introducing change to a largely sceptical workforce – imagine trying to do that on a nationwide scale to an apathetic nation wound up by an overtly critcial press core? Already the Prime Minister is coming up against a raft of “doom merchants” in the shape of the BMA opposition to the NHS reforms, police chiefs warning about increases in crime levels if police budgets are cut, unions arguing that its all about public services on the cheap without public servants and charity workers warning that if council funding disappears so do they.
The PM relaunched the Big Society agenda through his closing speech to the Conservative Party Conference – “your country needs you” he rallied calling for people to step up and particiapte in society. He will need to get the sceptics on board quickly and that will be no mean acheivement if he succeeds at that level alone. If, having got the sceptics onside, he actually manages to deliver on Big Society that will be some achievement. If he fails it may well be because the predominant way that the public sector saves money is by shedding staff and a nation of unemployed civil and public servants saying “stuff your big Society, I’ve lost my job because of it”. Quite simply for Big Society to work the public sector needs to get smarter about how it spends and saves money. As for the government it needs to recognise that stopping public spending absolutely (which is what has happened in the last few months in the lead up to 20th October) will only serve to cripple the private sector that supplies government with goods and services. Labour gave out some basic training with the modernisation agenda, the coalition are playing hardball; the public sector needs to respond innovatively with clarity of purpose and not just chop the salami.

E – is it really for everything?

Efficient, Effective, Economic and Electronic? I used to wonder if any finance managers ever cared about Effective and in my experience they were seriously worried about Electronic; it meant spending money to build websites and online access to services that no one would ever use. Lets face it, the e-Government Programme was hardly a universal success for anyone other than suppliers so may be they were right. Or were they? A lot of authorities learned an awful lot about change management and how to get more out of technology back in the mid noughties and they were and will be invaluable in the unprecedented changes now facing our public services. This week Martha Lane-Fox no less has been advocating e-everything as the way to balance cuts with service delivery at SOCITM and SOLACE conferences “Think e first, second and last”. She alludes to NHS choices costing 46p a visit and your GP costing £136 a visit – go figure! A few years ago I did a couple of big-ish studies into take up of e-services, how to measure it and how much it could save authorities. The reports are still around on the web if you dig hard enough (here if you cant be bothered). In my research there was always one big fear of the finance directors in relation to promoting take up of e-services; not that it would lead to channel shift per se, but that it would lead to an unlocking of latent demand. More demand would gridlock the back office and increase costs they argued. The first point they failed to grasp was that  they should close down under-used channels and save the costs. The second point was that any increase in demand is indicative of poorly met need and inaccesible traditional channels and that by realising an increase in take up you can re-target resources where they are most needed. What’s more the web server will give you evidence (volumetrics) to support the decision.
Time will tell if Ms Lane-Fox gets here way – I for one will be watching with interest.

The devil is in the detail

So, George Osbourne has had his day; the public sector, the media, social commentators and perhaps even “the general public” now know where the axe will be yielded – or do they? The Chancellor’s speech was big on headlines, but in line (dare I say) with his two immediate predecessors, very short on detail. As has become the norm of late, a plethora of background reports have been published today and it is in these reports that the detail is contained on exactly where the cuts will be made and to what degree. It is not all doom and gloom either – there are some significant announcements on investment for the future:

  • Health spending to rise to £114bn (actually a net loss in real terms
  • Rail transport (£14bn to Network Rail),
  • M-way improvments and the Mersey Gateway (£10bn)
  • rural broadband (£530m),
  • £5,000 towards the cost of a new ultra-low emission vehicle from January 2011,
  • £200m to local government for transformation
  • 150,000 new social homes to be built

to name a handful. However, how has the Chancellor managed to cut the overall spend by around £81bn (19%) and yet still find some money to invest? Which services are suffering and what will be the price we pay? Labour are already saying that this settlement will hit those least able to afford it the most – time will tell and they may well be correct. But, at first glance, a large cross section of us will be paying:-

  • Retirement age to increase to 66 by 2020 – affects all of us of working age
  • Incapacity Benefit/Employment Support Allowance to be restricted to 12 months whereafter, if you dont qualify for Disability Living Allowance, you go onto Job Seekers Allowance – affects around 1 million claimants and may impact adversely on men from manual labour backgrounds
  • Local authority budgets to be cut by 7.1% per annum for four years (28% in total) – will affect all of us to some extent but impact will vary locally
  • Police and fire budgets cut by around 13%
  • Estimates that 490,000 public sector jobs will go within 4 years – a net cost of around £8.5bn to the economy in terms of reduced spending power
  • Child benefits to end for higher rate tax payers, regardless of total household income (do I make my partner a co-director of my company so she can receive half the company dividends ergo we keep our Child Benefit?)

Will efficiencies through moderising working practices, removal of non-value adding processes, sharing service delivery and infrastructure be enough? Of course not, but they will certainly help public bodies transition through the next four years with less pain for their citizens. The Spending Review Report states that government will utilise digital channels as the default for service delivery wherever possible. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, it is a big statement for such a short sentence. However, what it does do is offer up the opportunity for significant change with local government being given a £200m pot to pump prime such change. There is an issue about how that money will be distributed and expected benefits realised – too many of the existing funding routes are tarred with failure to deliver anything meaningful. Failure to do so again and grasp the opportunities to be seriously radical about how we deliver public services to our needy citizens will be a failure of responsibility amongst the decision makers. The 16 pilots for place based budgeting have a huge responsibility to make it work and identify what is possible – I wish them every success (and if anyone needs any help please shout!). The alternative of mistakenly slicing the sausgae into ever thinner slices may keep the bean counters happy but anyone taking such an approach will have failed their public and in doing so, failed in their duty.

‘Super councils’ and ‘deserving poor’ – are these new or do we need a history lesson?

Anyone remember the Met County Councils? For those who can’t it is only as far back as 1986 that these leviathans were abolished by the then Conservative government as being too big, too unwieldy and too remote from their citizens to be accountable – they also had some vast budgets.

The Metropolitan Counties of England 1974-1986

The Metropolitan Counties of England 1974-1986

Their functions devolved to the Metropolitan District Councils (or London Boroughs) who, for some functions such as waste disposal and fire, set up county-wide joint boards to govern them. Other functions like highways were subsumed by each district.

When they were established under the Local Government Act 1972 and came into being in 1974 they were modelled on the London set up. The original report produced in 1969 had recommended huge swathes of the shires of Cheshire, North Yorkshire and Staffordshire be included in their near neighbour Met County areas but the government shied away from dismantling the shires in such a radical way. Only Southport was added in at the former County Borough’s own request – some might argue it has spent the last 30 years trying to get back into Lancashire!

What many might not know is that there were proposals for “super councils” to cover:-

  • Most of Hampshire including the Isle of Wight
  • Central Lancashire (now Preston, South Ribble and Chorley) but then an emerging New Town area and
  • The Thames Estuary covering northern Kent and southern Essex (deja vu viz the LEP proposals?)

Each of these additional super councils were rejected by parliament, decisions in the main taken as a result of insufficient population density.

It is also interesting to note that these super councils were only ever charged with a strategic role looking after regional stuff like waste disposal, highways, trading standards, strategic planning and emergency services – it was never envisaged that such large bodies could deliver “local services”. Of course, back then we had significantly poorer communications but we also had significantly fewer local public services; education, housing and “the rates” being the main ones alongside public health and town planning. Social Services was in its infancy as a local government service having been a health service from 1948 (when the Poor Laws were axed) to 1970. Indeed in relation to social services there are some interesting corollaries between current government policy on welfare and the policy of the Victorians who introduced welfare reform; the concept of the ‘deserving poor’ and ‘undeserving poor’ was first enshrined in policy well over 150 years ago when Henry Mayhew wrote his articles on the street workers of London.  The continuity doesn’t seem to end there either.   The Victorian concept of ‘less eligibility’ and the new benefits cap – set no higher than the average wage – appear to have a striking resemblance to each other.

Access to services is now better than it has ever been – but there is still a vast amount of room to improve this still further. Already the government are backtracking on the concept of a single universal benefit payment – it really is hard to introduce without some seriously losing out and without some major up front costs. The promise in the Spending Review Report (at para 1.104) that the Govt will use digital means, such as online and digital telephony, as the default option to deliver more of its services is bold but will also need investment of time, money and, critically,  vision to make it happen. It is a way, an opportunity even, to join up services around citizen’s needs rather than organisational needs but it requires great leadership to make it happen. Labour tried with the e-government Programme; it made a difference in so far as it helped modernise some woefully arcane business processes and opened up some new ways to access services but few succeded in making a major difference to peoples lives or in reducing costs – the opportunity was missed.

Those of us who have worked in or for public services for many years have always known what goes around, comes around, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. What history tells us is that it is incumbent upon policy makers not to repeat past mistakes regardless as to whether that past was a long time ago or within the last decade. History also tells us, unfortunately all too often, we do not learn from past mistakes.

Cuts – Is It Really That Simple?

It is fast becoming apparent that the “cuts” are likely to be much more widespread than many people could have anticipated. Talk of 40% cuts is, simply unprecedented in the UK public sector; nothing on this scale of savings has ever been demanded before. Most (but by no means all) public bodies have offered up some serious efficiencies over the last 6 years since Gershon showed the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, that there was some serious scope for such efficiencies.
Back in 2004 those public bodies who were leading change and had, in their own eyes, done much to put their own house in order already. They argued that it would be difficult to achieve 3% efficiencies year on year. These authorities got a minor reprieve and were allowed to count efficiencies from the previous year. Now they are likely to be asked to find betwen 25 and 40% savings! Quite simply, the salami sausage chopping will no longer be looking to wafer thin slices, but to great chunks being ripped off – or will it?
Is it really unfeasible to actually change for the better the way that public services are delivered AND save money? My experiences suggest not, indeed there is still huge scope for improvements that dont cost vast amounts of money and will lead to savings. After all, there are 352 local authorities in England and Wales offering around 900 services – DIFFERENTLY. Yes, at its worse that’s 352 different ways of delivering each of those 900 services. Not by anyones definition can that be efficient. Sharing common processes would be a start and indeed, for back office stuff like IT and HR sharing has started, mainly through out sourcing contracts. What no one has yet cracked is the sharing of the customer.
Areas such as cross boundary sharing of customer information, focusing on the citizen’s needs rather than the disparate and often conflicting needs of the organisations. Localis and Total Place principles are a step in the right direction but it musn’t just be about community of geography. Total Place solved nothing – but it did start to show what was possible – it has to be about sharing the customers with a community of need. If the public sector, working alongside the 3rd sector, can eliminate the amount of duplication of effort required around application forms, assessments, eligibility checking, inspections then they can revolutionise public services in this country AND save money. Evidence for many customer segments support this in places like:-

  • Birmingham (alocholics and drug addicts)
  • Leicstershire (victims and perpetrators of anti-social behaviour)
  • Greater Manchester (young families in poverty)
  • Cumbria (older people)
  • Blackburn (children with a parent who has an alcohol problem)
  • Nottinghamshire (workless)

All have concluded that reducing duplication of effort and focusing the scarce resources more keenly on early interventions will yield significant benefits for the public purse and significantly improve outcomes for citizens.
However, to make this happen requires real leadership and sharing of resources. It also requires the big central government departments to be able to work at a local level to make change happen for local people. So far this latter point has been the biggest single stumbling block to progress around shared customers – DWP and HMRC who hold all the aces on customer information simply cannot make significant changes at a local level. This has to change if there is to be any hope of sharing the customer and preserving service quality whilst saving major sums of money at the same time. Whilst the noises coming out of the Conservative Party Conference are more than background blurb, Big Society has not yet aligned itself with what local people need.

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